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The ulnar nerve is located behind the humerus on the elbow. Hitting the nerve causes a tingling sensation, and people often refer to this as hitting the funny bone. Ulnar nerve pain can be relieved by taking an anti-inflammatory, by attending physical therapy sessions, or by wearing a brace. Surgical treatments are only recommended if there is severe pain or wasting of the muscle. Many times, ulnar nerve dysfunction will heal on its own, as long as the person discontinues using the elbow in a way that caused the injury.
Many people with ulnar nerve pain have trouble moving their fingers, or he or she may feel a tingling sensation and pain when they do move their fingers. This could be the result of inflammation causing the nerve to become compressed. Many physicians will recommend taking an anti-inflammatory to reduce the swelling. The person may be prescribed corticosteroid injections, but this is rare, as there is risk that the shot could cause further damage the nerve.
Physical therapy is a common route taken to treat ulnar nerve pain. Nerve glide, strengthening, and loosening exercises are usually suggested. A physical therapist may also suggest lifestyle changes, such as sleeping with the arm straight during the night or avoiding leaning or resting the elbow on the armrest of a chair for long periods of time. There are braces and homemade splints that can be used to keep the arm straight for long periods of time to prevent further injury.
Surgery is performed to relieve pressure from an injury that has caused the ulnar nerve to be compressed. Muscle wasting, numbness in the hand or arm, or extreme pain may signal that surgery is needed to heal the injury. Procedures to relive the pressure usually require that the surgeon move the nerve to another location in the arm. If the compression has occurred in the wrist, a procedure to relieve the pressure will be performed.
Ulnar nerve pain can be caused by spinal injuries, fractures of the elbow or wrist, cubital tunnel diabetes, or rheumatoid arthritis. The ulnar nerve can also be compressed at a part of the wrist called Gunyon’s canal or a cyst or bone spur could cause the compression of the nerve. A physician can usually easily diagnose ulnar nerve dysfunction if there is tingling, numbness, pain, or weakness in the 4th and 5th fingers. A nerve conduction test, X-ray, blood test or computed tomographic (CT) scan will be conducted to determine the cause and location of the compression. It is best to consult a physician to create a treatment plan for ulnar nerve pain.
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