Ulnar nerve entrapment refers to excessive pressure on the ulnar nerve in your shoulder that can lead to pain and discomfort all the way to your pinky finger. The ulnar nerve travels from your shoulder through your arm and is closer to the surface of the skin, which means it has fewer muscles and bone nearby to protect it from compression. The ulnar nerve is most vulnerable in your elbow, which is why ulnar nerve entrapment is most common at the elbow. The best ulnar nerve entrapment treatment is non-surgical, as this issue is generally not severe enough to require invasive procedures and can generally be treated quite effectively with non-surgical options.
One of the most common examples of ulnar nerve entrapment is often referred to when you bump your “funny bone.” Hitting or bumping this part of your elbow a certain way can cause pain and tingling sensations that radiate all the way to your fingers. However, there are also times when ulnar nerve entrapment can occur and continue to cause pain and tingling through to your pinky finger, making certain movements and positions uncomfortable.
Symptoms of Ulnar Nerve Entrapment
The two main areas where ulnar nerve entrapment occurs are at the elbow and the wrist because the ulnar nerve located in your shoulder travels through your arm and wrist to your fingers. Ulnar nerve entrapment is a type of pinched nerve, and the symptoms of a pinched nerve include pain, tingling, numbness, and what is often described as a ‘pins and needles’ sensation. Ulnar nerve entrapment may even cause greater sensitivity to cold temperatures, especially in the hand and fingers. At first, symptoms may come and go, but if a pinched ulnar nerve is left untreated, it can happen more often and with stronger symptoms.
Ulnar Nerve Entrapment at the Wrist
When you experience ulnar nerve entrapment in your wrist the symptoms only tend to affect your hand and fingers. Typical symptoms of ulnar nerve entrapment in the wrist include pain, tenderness, tingling, and numbness. You may also experience weakness in your wrist and hand, more noticeable when you are trying to grip something. You may even have difficulty moving your fingers.
Ulnar Nerve Entrapment at the Elbow
Ulnar nerve entrapment at your elbow can cause symptoms in your elbow, forearm, hand, and fingers. When entrapment occurs at the elbow, nerve pain and the pins and needles feeling may also occur. You may also experience difficulty moving your fingers and even lose feeling in your ring and pinky fingers altogether. Weakness in the muscles of the hands and forearms can also occur.
Causes of Ulnar Nerve Entrapment
Ulnar nerve entrapment is most common in the elbow, where bending your elbow puts pressure on the ulnar nerve. Repetitive arm, elbow, and hand movements can put pressure on the ulnar nerve and cause these symptoms. Certain positions like resting on your elbows or sleeping with your arms bent can cause irritation of the nerve as well. It is possible to develop ulnar nerve entrapment in instances like talking for a long time on the phone with your hand up by your ear, bracing your arms on a table with your weight on your elbows, or even seated in a car with your elbow bent for a long period of time.
Repetitive movements and activities of the wrist can also lead to ulnar nerve entrapment in the wrist. This may include repetitive movements related to your job, like hammering motions, or in sports, like using a golf club or gripping the handlebars on a bicycle. An injury to the elbow or wrist can also lead to swelling, inflammation, or even fluid buildup, which can aggravate the ulnar nerve. Other possible causes of ulnar nerve entrapment can include arthritis or even a cyst in the elbow or wrist. People with high blood pressure, thyroid conditions, diabetes, and certain autoimmune conditions are also at greater risk for developing ulnar nerve entrapment.
Diagnosing Ulnar Nerve Entrapment
In order to diagnose ulnar nerve entrapment, your chiropractor will review your symptoms and perform a physical exam of the affected area. Talk to your doctor about what type of pain and discomfort you are experiencing, when you notice it happening, and what activities cause more pain and which provide more relief. Certain activities can exacerbate ulnar nerve entrapment, like heavy lifting or certain sports, so it’s helpful for you to share your common activities with your chiropractor. They may also test your movement and strength to see when the pain and numbness occurs. Your chiropractor may also use diagnostic imaging tools to test your nerve functioning and get a clearer picture of how the bones, muscles, and other soft tissues are affecting the ulnar nerve. X-rays can help identify bone spurs that might be pressuring the nerve, while MRIs and other diagnostic imaging tools can provide detailed images of your elbow and wrist.
Ulnar Nerve Entrapment Treatment
Once your doctor has determined a diagnosis and where the ulnar nerve entrapment tends to occur, they can develop a treatment plan that is best for you. Many treatment options for ulnar nerve entrapment can begin with simple lifestyle changes. Your chiropractor can talk with you about how chiropractic care combined with lifestyle adjustments can provide ulnar nerve entrapment treatment as a non-surgical option.
Adjusting Your Posture
While many people think of your posture as related to your spine, the joints and muscles all throughout your body can benefit when in proper alignment. Because the ulnar nerve is not as protected as other nerves, any joint problem or inflammation in your shoulder or arm could affect the ulnar nerve. During your first chiropractor visit, your chiropractor will talk with you about how to better position your arm, especially if your work or activities require certain motions that can aggravate the nerve. Additionally, the way you sleep at night can contribute to ulnar nerve entrapment pain, so your chiropractor may want to discuss how to better support your shoulders and arms while sleeping.
Stretches and Exercises
In addition to giving yourself time to rest in between activities that exacerbate your ulnar nerve entrapment pain, there are also stretches and exercises you can incorporate. Your chiropractor may recommend certain stretches and exercises that strengthen your muscles so they can better support your ulnar nerve. Stretches and exercises are also typically designed to improve flexibility and range of motion, both of which can be affected by the pain and discomfort from ulnar nerve entrapment.
When certain activities are required or necessary for your job or other responsibilities then you may not be able to avoid aggravating your ulnar nerve altogether. That’s when your chiropractor may want to recommend certain ways of stabilizing the area, like with a brace or splint. Ulnar nerve entrapment treatment with non-surgical approaches may involve keeping your elbow straight whenever possible, especially when you are sleeping.
At Alan Nathans Family Chiropractic, we use safe, gentle adjustments and chiropractic techniques that are natural and non-invasive. Chiropractic care offers those struggling with ulnar nerve entrapment to experience non-surgical treatment that provides lasting relief. In addition to providing support for your symptoms, your chiropractor will want to address the root cause of the ulnar nerve entrapment. Your chiropractor will identify what is putting pressure on the ulnar nerve and work to remove that pressure.