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Ulnar Neuropathy

Ulnar Neuropathy

Ulnar neuropathy is a condition that is caused by damage of the ulnar nerve―a nerve that originates in the brachial plexus and travels downwards to the arm. This HealthHearty article will help you understand the causes, symptoms, and treatment of this condition.
Batul Nafisa Baxamusa
Last Updated: Apr 20, 2018
Ulnar neuropathy is famously referred to as 'handlebar palsy' by many bicyclists. This is because the nerve tends to get inflamed during bicycling, as a result of the repeated shocks experienced while holding the handlebar. Damage caused by the inflammation or compression of the ulnar nerve is called ulnar neuropathy. It causes paresthesia in the outer side of the arm and hand, near the little finger. This nerve helps in transmitting senses related to touch, texture, and temperature. These senses are transferred to the fourth and fifth digits of the hand, palm, and the underside of the forearm.
The most common location of damage is usually near the elbow. The causes include inflammation or nerve compression. A hard blow or fracture of the elbow, bone spurs, cysts, etc., may also result in this condition. When one leans against the elbow for a long time, or continuously carries out an activity that makes the elbow bent, it may result in nerve compression.

While cycling, the handlebar transfers the shock to the hand, which results in the inflammation of the ulnar nerve. In some cases, the ulnar nerve may get compressed under the collarbone or near the neck where it comes out of the spinal cord.

This nerve tends to pass out of the elbow from the ulnar groove. This groove is the region of humerus, also known as the funny bone. When one bumps into something and hurts the ulnar groove, it causes one to experience a sharp electrical pain. This pain is felt from the forearm into the little finger and the ring finger. The pain you experience is a chronic pain, similar to the one you experience when bumping your funny bone into something hard.
Symptoms include pain on the inner side of the elbow. The ring finger and little finger tend to 'fall asleep', in other words, become numb. A pricking sensation is also felt in the hands. You may also feel weak when it comes to performing activities using your arms and hands. Other symptoms include numbness, tingling, and burning sensation. When the nerve compression occurs for a long time, it causes muscle wasting. One should seek immediate treatment as soon as the symptoms are identified.
Identification of the causes will help you adjust your position and find ways to relieve the pressure off the nerves. Do not place your elbows leaning over hard surfaces. Avoid extending your arms for a long period of time. You should reposition your handlebars to prevent this condition. A splint will be useful for the same. This splint should be worn on the elbow at night. Wear an elbow pad during the day to reduce the pressure from the nerve. This will also help you extend your arms, and prevent you from bending the elbow at night. The treatment includes use of anti-inflammatory drugs and therapeutic exercises. Anti-inflammatory medications will help reduce the swelling around the nerves. The exercises are explained in the following section.
There are different exercises that will help in reducing the tingling, pain, and numbness of the nerves. One of the helpful exercises is neck rotation. You need to sit in a chair and keep the neck, shoulders, and trunk in a straight position. Then, gently turn your head to the right, towards the point of pain. Then, bring it back to the original forward position. Relax and repeat the same step on your left. Do this exercise about 10 times. You can even try bending you wrist forward and then backwards, as far as you can. You need to carry out three sets of this wrist exercise, with 10 repetitions.

Speak to your doctor if you suspect being affected by this condition, or if you have had an elbow injury. This will help avoid complications such muscle wasting, and proper treatment will ensure minimal discomfort.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is meant for informational purposes only, and should not be considered as a replacement for expert medical advice.