The ulnar nerve travels from the neck to the hand and is one of the main nerves that provide feeling and function to the hand. Ulnar tunnel syndrome occurs when this nerve becomes compressed or constricted at the wrist.
Most cases of ulnar tunnel syndrome are caused by a benign (noncancerous) ganglion cyst at the wrist joint. The condition may also be caused by trauma to the hand or repetitive pressure on the nerve, such as while using a jackhammer or gripping the handlebars of a bicycle.
Individuals with ulnar tunnel syndrome typically experience tingling and numbness on the little finger side of the hand. There may or not be pain. As the condition develops, the hand may become weaker and gripping objects, opening jars, and coordinating the fingers while typing or playing an instrument may become more difficult.
To diagnose ulnar tunnel syndrome, a hand subspecialist at Lancaster Orthopedic Group will examine your hand for signs of muscle weakness or atrophy. He or she will also examine the elbow because the ulnar nerve travels through a narrow tunnel there, and nerve compression may cause symptoms in the hand.
A nerve conduction study may be suggested to find out if the nerve is working properly. Your physician may also recommend an X-ray, MRI or CT scan to determine if anything is pressing on the nerve, such as a cyst or bone fragment.
Treatment will depend on what is causing the nerve compression. In many cases of ulnar tunnel syndrome, anti-inflammatory medications, temporary use of a wrist splint, and repositioning the wrist during activities may alleviate the symptoms. Cysts, bone spurs, scar tissue, or other causes of compression may have to be surgically removed.