An entrapped ulnar nerve can be a major problem as it has an adverse effect on the mobility of the hands and fingers. In this article, we provide you with the symptoms of this condition, and some treatment measures for it.
The ulnar nerve is one of the three vital nerves of the hand, with the other two being the radial nerve and the median nerve. It is quite long and extends from the collarbone to the hand, and carries out the important functions of controlling muscle movement of the hands for activities like gripping objects, and providing senses to the little finger and a part of the ring finger.
Nerve entrapment is a condition where the nerve gets compressed at certain points. Ulnar nerve entrapment mainly occurs at the elbow, wrist, or collarbone. The exact reason behind the compression of the ulnar nerve in these areas is still not clearly known. It may happen due to traumatic injury. It is also often found in diabetic patients, alcoholics, and people with arthritis and thyroid problems.
No matter where the nerve compression occurs, its symptoms affects the fingers and hand. The identifiable signs and symptoms include:
- One of the typical symptoms of nerve entrapment is tingling and numbness in little and ring finger. It gives a feeling that the fingers have fallen asleep. In early stages, numbness in the fingers comes and goes, but as the problem aggravates further there is a complete loss of sensation in the fingers.
- The entire hand goes numb when it is bent at the elbow during activities, like holding the phone.
- A sharp burning pain is felt occasionally inside of the elbow and the area becomes tender to touch.
- Twitching sensation in the muscles.
- As the problem progresses, it leads to weakening of the muscles. There is a decrease in muscle mass. It results in loss of strength, and it becomes difficult to use the hand for carrying out daily tasks.
If you are experiencing the above symptoms, you should consult a doctor for proper treatment. If treatment starts early, then it can be treated with non-surgical means. The condition can be diagnosed with the help of physical examination and symptoms. Laboratory tests, like x-rays and MRI scans are conducted to ascertain the exact location of the trapped nerve. The treatment is then based upon the severity of the condition.
As the condition of trapped nerve tends to get aggravated with physical movement, you should provide adequate amount of rest to the affected hand. While resting the hand, make sure the elbow is kept in a straight position as it eases off the pressure from the ulnar nerve to a great extent. You have to modify your activities and sleeping position in order to avoid any bending of the arms. You can use a splint to prevent bending of the elbow, particularly at night. Alternately, you can wrap a towel around the elbow so that it remains straight.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, are often prescribed for controlling pain and inflammation. In some cases, muscle relaxers are also given for pain relief. In cases of severe pain and nerve inflammation, doctors may administer cortisone injections. At home, you can obtain soothing relief from the pain by applying heat and cold in the area alternately. As the pain subsides, doctors suggest some nerve exercises that can ensure faster recovery from the problem.
In serious cases, where the ulnar nerve is heavily compressed and there is severe pain and numbness for several months, doctors opt for surgery. There are different techniques used to release the trapped nerve. Sometimes, the nerve is relocated in order to minimize the chances of entrapment. In case the compression occurs at the wrist, surgeons open up the passage through which the nerve travels.
The usual recovery time, treated at the initial stage by conservative methods of treatment, is one or two weeks. The healing time surgeries is at least 6 weeks, if not more. It is followed by a physical therapy program that continues for several weeks and it ensures proper healing of the damage.