There are both surgical and nonsurgical treatments for cubital tunnel syndrome. Healthcare providers prefer non-invasive treatments first and usually start with the nonsurgical options. They include:
- Bracing or splinting: Wearing a padded brace or splint when you sleep might help keep your elbow straight.
- Exercise: Nerve gliding exercises might help your ulnar nerve to slide more easily through the cubital tunnel. These exercises might also prevent stiffness in your arm and wrist. One exercise you could try is holding your arm in front of you with your elbow straight, then curling your wrist and fingers toward your body. Then, push them away from you and bend your elbow. Check with your healthcare provider to see if nerve gliding exercises are right for you.
- Hand therapy: A hand therapist might help you learn ways to avoid putting pressure on your ulnar nerve.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Medications such as Ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) might help. They can reduce the swelling around your nerve and lessen your pain from cubital tunnel syndrome.
If nonsurgical treatments don't improve your cubital tunnel syndrome, your nerve is very compressed or the compression has caused muscle weakness, your healthcare provider might recommend surgery. You'll get sent to an orthopaedic surgeon. There are a few types of surgeries that help with cubital tunnel syndrome. They include:
- Cubital tunnel release: The roof of your cubital tunnel is a ligament. This type of surgery cuts and divides your ligament, making the tunnel bigger and decreasing pressure on your ulnar nerve. New tissue will grow where your ligament gets cut.
- Ulnar nerve anterior transposition: In this surgery, your surgeon moves your ulnar nerve from behind the medial epicondyle to the front (closest to your skin). The procedure stops the nerve from getting caught on your bone.
- Medial epicondylectomy: This surgery removes part of the medial epicondyle to release your nerve.
These procedures are usually outpatient, but you might need to stay one night at the hospital. You’ll likely need to wear a splint on your arm for about two to three weeks. Physical therapy is sometimes necessary to regain your motion and strength.
Surgery doesn’t guarantee that cubital tunnel syndrome will go away permanently. However, the outcome is generally positive.