Cubital tunnel syndrome is a condition in which the ulnar nerve, also known as the funny bone, is compressed. The typical result is pain and weakness in the ring finger, pinky and elbow. Treatment for severe cubital tunnel syndrome is usually surgery, which may involve repositioning the ulnar nerve, dividing a nearby ligament or shaving off a small amount of bone. No matter which type of cubital tunnel surgery is performed, you will be fitted with a cast afterward, and you can start to gently use the hand again once the cast is removed. You also may be given a splint or padded sleeve to protect the area while it heals after surgery and, during this time, you will likely feel some relief from the pain of cubital tunnel syndrome.
Your doctor will choose the correct type of cubital tunnel surgery for your situation, because this decision usually depends on the severity of your condition. One option is pushing the ulnar nerve to the front of the elbow's groove instead of behind it, because this may reduce the tension felt when you bend your elbow. Your doctor also can move the ulnar nerve under the forearm muscles on the inner elbow to relieve some of the tension. Another possibility involves dividing the ligament at the top of the cubital tunnel to reduce the stress on the nerve. The final cubital tunnel surgery option is to shave a small piece from the bone at the bottom of the cubital tunnel and then place the ulnar nerve in front of this bone.
Most patients get relief from the symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome directly after surgery, so you can expect the majority of the pain and tingling in your hand and elbow to disappear immediately. You may, however, still notice some numbness for a few months after cubital tunnel surgery, and you also may observe pain in the surgical site while it heals. The inner elbow, in particular, may be sore for about six months following cubital tunnel surgery, and it often swells. If you feel the same amount of pain after surgery as you did before treatment, you should return to your doctor, who can usually improve the results by operating on a larger portion of the nerve.
You can expect to go home from cubital tunnel surgery with a cast on the affected area, and you will need to keep the cast and the area, in general, dry and clean for up to four weeks. Once the cast is removed, you will usually be told to gently bend and straighten your fingers and elbow so they can get used to regular movement again. Your doctor may give you a padded sleeve for your elbow because this area will likely feel tender for a few months. You also will likely be encouraged to massage the area around the incision and apply ice packs to reduce scarring as it heals.