Having tingling sensations on your pinky and ring fingers might seem like a peculiarity that you can ignore and assume it’ll go away. This is especially true of people who engage in vigorous physical activity, as they might figure that the sensations are merely due to intense training.
However, if these sensations continue, they might be a sign of something more sinister – a condition that can eventually lead to hand pain or weakness, including cubital tunnel syndrome and radial tunnel syndrome. That is why it is important to have these symptoms evaluated by a medical professional who specializes in the hands and arms.
There are several excellent treatment methods for these conditions. They are most effective when done as soon as possible, before the condition becomes worse. An early diagnosis can help prevent any further complications from these conditions.
What Are the Cubital and Radial Tunnels?
The cubital and radial tunnels both pass near the elbow and run through the forearm to several fingers. The cubital tunnel houses the ulnar nerve, which winds behind and inside the elbow; the radial tunnel houses the radial nerve on the outside of the elbow.
These nerves are responsible for conveying sensations from the hands and for stimulating the adjacent muscles. The ulnar nerve serves the forearm, ring finger, and pinky, whereas the radial nerve controls the triceps, wrist, and fingers (other than the pinky).
Due to the proximity of these nerves with the skin, they can be irritated by direct pressure – such as by leaning too much on the elbows or bending the arms awkwardly while asleep. Sometimes, anatomical features such as extra muscle mass or a prominent bump of bone can also put pressure on these nerves. When nerves are irritated, their ability to transmit signals is impaired.
Symptoms of Radial and Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
Cubital tunnel syndrome manifests as a tingling or numbing sensation, usually felt in the pinky and ring fingers or inside the hand. There might also be pain in the hand or inside the elbow.
If cubital tunnel syndrome isn’t treated, grip strength may decrease. The muscles of the hand can therefore atrophy due to the lack of nerve conduction and correlating lack of muscle usage. (If any muscles in the body aren’t used, they decrease in mass and can therefore atrophy.)
As for radial tunnel syndrome, it usually causes a dull ache in the top of the forearm. It can also cause piercing or stabbing sensations in the wrist or on the back of the hand. The feelings intensify when the arm or hand is outstretched.
How Are These Syndromes Treated?
Doctors treat mild cases by suggesting over-the-counter pain relievers, heat or cold treatment, certain exercises for the hand and arm, and possibly a splint. A splint is used to limit movement of the elbow or wrist.
An elbow pad may also be used to protect the area from pressure. Patients are cautioned to avoid applying pressure directly on the elbow.
Patients may be taught about ergonomics so that they can do daily activities without causing additional injury to the nerves. If these interventions fail to alleviate symptoms, surgery to relieve the nerve pressure in the tunnel might be required.
Can These Syndromes Be Prevented?
To reduce the chances of developing cubital tunnel syndrome or radial tunnel syndrome, it is best to avoid excessive leaning and pressure on the elbow, especially on hard surfaces. Physically active people, or people who have developed the syndrome as a repetitive-motion injury, should wear elbow pads, wrist pads, or splints.
Who Can Help Treat My Arm Pain?
If you suspect that you have cubital tunnel syndrome or radial tunnel syndrome, contact our upper extremity specialists at Greater Chesapeake Hand to Shoulder. Our board-certified surgeons are ready to give you back the quality of life you deserve.
Call us today at (410) 296-6232 or request an appointment online. Get access to state-of-the-art diagnosis and treatment today!