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Injury to Ulnar Nerve: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Sandeep Dhanyamraju MD
Medically reviewed by Sandeep Dhanyamraju
Sandeep Dhanyamraju MD
Medically reviewed by Sandeep Dhanyamraju

The ulnar nerve innervates the ulnar joint. It provides movement in the forearm and hand muscles. Also, it provides skin sensitivity in the area of the little finger and ring finger. Injury to the ulnar nerve impairs these functions. Programmers and athletes are the most common people to see a doctor with signs of injury to the ulnar nerve. Causes of occurrence may be:

  • A person frequently puts his or her elbows on a desk;
  • The habit of putting the bent arm out the window when driving a car;
  • Frequent repetitive movements of bending the arm at the elbow;

For successful treatment for ulnar neuropathy, you need to cut the cause of the disorder. Doctors recommend physiotherapeutic procedures to increase the effectiveness of the medication. Therapeutic exercise, massage, and gymnastics in the pool give good results. Read more in our article below.

Understanding Ulnar Nerve Injury

The ulnar nerve begins in the brachial plexus. It consists of nerve fibers emanating from the spinal canal. They are at the seventh to eighth cervical and first thoracic vertebrae level. It travels along the inner humeral surface, shifting to the elbow. It penetrates the cubital (ulnar) canal there. That is the anatomical tunnel of:

  • ligaments;
  • muscle tendons;
  • surfaces of the epicondyle;
  • the ulnar process. 

The nerve then runs along the inner forearm surface to the wrist. A deep branch goes through the Guyon canal.

Injury to the ulnar nerve is a pathology of an inflammatory nature. The ulnar nerve handles the work of the muscles and joints of the hand. It provides movement and sensitivity of the:

  • little finger;
  • ring finger;
  • part of the middle finger. 

Symptoms of this condition are often different types of pain (ulnar nerve neuralgia). To decide exactly how to cure the ulnar nerve, a doctor must determine the condition’s root cause.

There are two types of lesion of the ulnar nerve:

  • those caused by physical trauma;
  • those caused by lifestyle or comorbidities. 

Read more about things that can cause this problem below.

Causes of Ulnar Nerve Injury

In the first case, the fibers are often injured in the:

  • shoulder;
  • elbow;
  • forearm;
  • cervicothoracic spine.

It can be a fracture, joint dislocation, muscle rupture, contusion, or ligament sprain. In any case, the nerve fibers are also affected. The symptoms of ulnar nerve neuritis will also disappear with proper treatment.

Type 2 lesion of the ulnar nerve requires more attention and often lifestyle changes. Causes of inflammation or pinched nerve fibers can be:

    • Unfunctional driving posture. This is when the driver is leaning on the elbow out the window.
    • Improper posture when sitting for long periods. There is pressure on the ulnar fossa and compression of the nerve trunk.  It comes in a position where the body’s weight rests on the elbow. 
    • Frequent sudden movements of the joint during monotonous work or sports activities.
  • Riding a bicycle or motorcycle can also cause injury to the ulnar nerve.
    • Working in an environment of constant vibration radiating to the elbow joint.
    • Constant use of a cane while walking.
    • Shoulder, elbow infectious or autoimmune arthritis.
    • New growths, tumors, or deformities of the joint.
  • Post-traumatic arthritis.
  • Enlarged lymph nodes.

Ulnar Nerve

Symptoms of Ulnar Nerve Injury

A characteristic sign of neuralgia of the ulnar nerve is a piercing, burning pain. In the affected elbow, can be:

  • weakness in the hand;
  • numbness in the palm, fourth (ring finger), and fifth (pinky finger) fingers. 

The wrist muscles weaken, and in severe cases, they become completely paralyzed. The hand resembles a clawed paw (bird’s paw type deformity). Pain is at the carpal base in injury to the ulnar nerve with carpal tunnel syndrome. And the sensitivity of the fingers is often impaired only on the palm side.

Patients find it difficult to bring the fingers together and apart on the hand. When the ulnar nerve has damage or compression, it can result in various symptoms. Here are some common ulnar nerve entrapment symptoms.

Numbness or tingling

One of the primary symptoms of ulnar nerve injury is a sensation of numbness or tingling. It can be on the ring finger, little finger, and the inner side of the hand. This numbness or tingling sensation may extend from the fingers to the forearm. Sometimes, it can even reach the upper arm.

Weakness or muscle wasting

The muscles controlled by the nerve may not function properly. It leads to weakness and a gradual loss of muscle mass over time.

The specific muscles affected by weakness depend on the:

  • location;
  • severity of the ulnar nerve injury. 

But, certain muscles in the hand and forearm are commonly affected:

  • Intrinsic hand muscles. The ulnar nerve provides motor function to the intrinsic muscles of the hand. They are responsible for fine motor movements and control of the fingers. Weakness in these muscles during lesion of the ulnar nerve can result in difficulties with:
  • gripping objects;
  • manipulating small items;
  • performing precise hand movements.
  • Flexor muscles of the fingers. The flexor muscles in the forearm are responsible for bending the fingers. Weakness can lead to:
  • reduced grip strength;
  • difficulties with finger flexion tasks.
  • Hypothenar muscles. The hypothenar muscles have a location at the little finger’s base. Weakness in these muscles can reduce the ability to control the little finger. It affects tasks requiring precise movements, such as playing a musical instrument.

Sensitivity to touch

Some individuals with injury to the ulnar nerve may experience increased sensitivity. So, they feel pain from the touch in the affected area. Light touch or pressure on the elbow or inner side of the hand may cause pain or a heightened sensation.

Claw-like deformity

The fingers appear to spread out and slightly curled, resembling a clawed paw. The ring finger and little finger are particularly affected. As the ulnar nerve primarily controls these fingers. The middle and end joints flex or bend, while the other fingers may remain extended. It is one of the most common ulnar nerve entrapment symptoms. 

The exact positioning of the fingers may vary depending on the severity and extent of the injury. The claw-like deformity is most noticeable when the hand is at rest. But, it may correct or improve when the individual tries to straighten their fingers.

Painful sensations in the pinky, ring, and middle fingers

Painful sensations in these fingers are usual ulnar nerve entrapment symptoms. It can cause sharp or shooting pain, a burning or tingling sensation, and aches or throbbing pain. Increased sensitivity to touch may also be present. Consulting a healthcare professional is highly recommended for proper diagnosis and treatment options. They may include medication, physical therapy, or surgery. As it depends on the severity of the condition.

Diagnosis of Ulnar Nerve Injury

A neurologist conducts a series of tests to understand treatment for the ulnar nerve.  The doctor needs it to identify:

  • the condition of the nerve tissue itself;
  • the causes that led to the development of inflammation.

First, a series of neurological tests are always performed to confirm the problem:

  • Testing skin sensitivity in the affected hand.
  • Bending all fingers into a fist. The little finger lags slightly behind the others. It indicates the presence of neurological disease.
  • A picture of the affected hand with an “okay” sign.
  • The patient’s task is to spread the fingers. Then they must scratch the table a little in a mobility test in which the hand lays flat.

After the initial screening, hardware tests are usually ordered to establish the cause of injury to the ulnar nerve :

  • Ultrasound of the soft tissues at the site of the muscle bundle.
  • Radiographs of the elbow joint, forearm, and wrist canal.
  • Nerve fiber nerve conduction velocity testing.
  • MRI of the cervicothoracic spine, hand.
  • Blood tests.
  • Physical examination of the joint.

After receiving the results, you can determine exactly what caused the inflammation. And, based on the findings, build a treatment scheme.

Ulnar Neuropathy

Treatment Options for Ulnar Neuropathy

Treatment for ulnar neuropathy is primarily aimed at:

  • eliminating the pain syndrome;
  • identifying and eliminating the causes that led to the development of the disease.

The professionals at our clinic take a comprehensive approach to solving such problems. It includes both traditional and innovative non-surgical methods.

The most effective way to eliminate even severe pain is treatment blocks. It introduces a set of drugs based on anesthetics in the zone of maximum pain. Pain relief develops in minutes and lasts for several hours. Doctors may also use special techniques to relieve pain. Sometimes the situation may require surgery.

Surgical Intervention for Ulnar Nerve Injury

Surgical intervention is an ulnar nerve pain relief option for severe or persistent ulnar nerve injuries. They do not respond to conservative measures, as a rule. It involves surgical procedures to:

  • relieve compression;
  • repair damage to the ulnar nerve. 

Here are some common surgical interventions for ulnar nerve injuries:

  • Ulnar nerve decompression. This procedure involves releasing any tissues that are compressing the ulnar nerve.
  • Ulnar nerve transposition. This helps to protect the nerve from further damage. The nerve is typically moved from its original position behind the medial epicondyle to a location in front of it.
  • Nerve grafting. This treatment for ulnar neuropathy involves:
  • taking a section of the nerve from another part of the body (usually a sensory nerve);
  • using it to bridge the gap, facilitating nerve regeneration.
  • Nerve transfer. This allows the healthy nerves to provide innervation to the muscles and areas. As the damaged ulnar nerve previously controlled them.

Ulnar Nerve Pain Relief Techniques

Pain relief techniques are an important component of the treatment plan for ulnar nerve injury. These techniques include:

  • Medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can help reduce pain and inflammation. In some cases, physicians may prescribe stronger pain medications or corticosteroids.
  • Splinting. Wearing a splint or brace can support and immobilize the affected area. As it reduces strain on the ulnar nerve and minimizes pain.
  • Physical therapy. Specific exercises and stretching techniques prescribed by a physical therapist can help improve strength and flexibility and reduce pain. 
  • Cold or heat therapy. Applying ice packs or cold compresses can help reduce inflammation and numbness. So, it provides temporary pain relief.
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). This technique involves applying mild electrical currents to the skin. They can help block pain signals and provide relief.

Conclusion

In conclusion, injury to the ulnar nerve can result from various causes and lead to symptoms such as numbness, weakness, and pain in the hand and fingers. Remember that early diagnosis and appropriate management are essential for optimal recovery. So, do not hesitate to contact us for high-qualified medical help.

FAQ

  • What happens when the ulnar nerve is damaged?

When the ulnar nerve is damaged, it can lead to various symptoms, such as numbness, tingling, weakness, pain, and loss of muscle control in the hand and fingers.

  • What are the symptoms of ulnar nerve entrapment?

Symptoms of ulnar nerve entrapment include numbness or tingling in the ring finger, little finger, and the inner side of the hand, weakness in the hand grip, clumsiness or difficulties with coordination, and pain in the elbow or forearm.

  • What muscle would be affected if the ulnar nerve was damaged?

If the ulnar nerve is damaged, the muscles controlled by the nerve, such as the intrinsic hand muscles and the flexor muscles of the fingers, can be usually affected, resulting in weakness and loss of muscle function in the hand and fingers.

  • What diagnostic methods can the doctor prescribe?

The neurologist prescribes an electroneuromyography. Special electrodes connected to a machine evaluate the passage of nerve impulses. This helps to determine the blocked nerve signal.

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Edward Medina
Edward Medina
15:34 30 Jun 22
Just such an amazing staff that makes you feel like part of their family. I’ve been going there for over 5 years now... and each visit I get the very best care and treatments that I have ever received in the 20+ years that I’ve been dealing with severe debilitating migraines. Since i started seeing them the number of my migraines has dropped from 15-20 a month to 2-3 every 3 month. I highly recommend them …they will change your life!read more
Daneisha Johnson
Daneisha Johnson
22:20 19 May 22
Dr. Askari was very kind and explained everything so I could understand. The other staff were nice as well. I would... have gave 5 stars but I was a little taken aback when I checked in and had to pay 600.00 upfront. I think that should have been discussed in a appointment confirmation call or email just so I could have been prepared.read more
Jean Cooper
Jean Cooper
16:54 29 Apr 22
I love the office staff they are friendly and very helpful. Dr. JODIE is very caring and understanding to your needs... and wants to help you. I will go back. would recommend Dr. Dr. Jodie to other Patients in a heart beat. The team works well together.read more
Linda M
Linda M
19:40 02 Apr 22
I was obviously stressed, needing to see a neurologist. The staff was so patient and Dr. Ansari was so kind. At one... point he told me to relax, we have time, when I was relaying my history of my condition. That helped ease my stress. I have seen 3 other neurologists and he was the only one who performed any assessment tests on my cognitive and physical skills. At one point I couldn't complete two assessments and got upset and cried. I was told, it's OK. That's why you're here. I was truly impressed, and super pleased with the whole experience!read more
Leslie Durham
Leslie Durham
15:05 01 Apr 22
I've been coming here for about 5 years. The staff are ALWAYS friendly and knowledgeable. The Doctors are the absolute... best!! Jodie Moore is always in such a great mood which is a plus when you are already stressed. Highly recommendedread more
Monica Del Bosque
Monica Del Bosque
14:13 25 Mar 22
Since my first post my thoughts have changed here. It's unfortunate. My doctor and PA were great, but the office staff... is horrible. They never call you back when they say they will, they misinform you, they cause you too much stress wondering what's going on, they don't keep you posted. They never answer the phone. At this point I've left four messages in the last week, and I have sent three messages. Twice from their portal and one direct email. No response. My appointment is on Monday morning at 8:30am, no confirmation on my insurance and what's going on. What the heck is going on, this is ridiculous!I've given up... the stress her office staff has put me through is just not worth it. You can do so much better, please clean house, either change out your office staff, or find a way for them to be more efficient please. You have to do something. This is not how you want to run your practice. It leaves a very bad impression on your business.read more
Ron Buckholz
Ron Buckholz
23:32 23 Mar 22
I was actually pleasantly surprised with this visit! It took me a long time to get the appointment scheduled because no... one answers your phones EVER! After a month, I finally got in, and your staff was warm, friendly, and I was totally impressed! I feel like you will take care of my needs!read more
Steve Nabavi
Steve Nabavi
16:28 16 Mar 22
It was a nice visit. Happy staff doing all they can do to comfort the patients in a very calming environment. You ask... me they are earned a big gold star on the fridge. My only complaint they didn't give me any cookies.read more
Katie Lewis
Katie Lewis
16:10 10 Feb 22
Had very positive appointments with Jodie and Dr. Sheth for my migraine care. Jodie was so fast with the injections and... has so much valuable info. I started to feel light headed during checkout and the staff was SO helpful—giving me a chair, water, and taking me into a private room until I felt better. Highly recommend this practice for migraine patients, they know what they’re doing!!read more
Joshua Martinez
Joshua Martinez
16:02 10 Dec 21
I was scheduled to be checked and just want to say that the staff was fantastic. They were kind and helpful. I was... asked many questions related to what was going on and not once did I feel as though I was being brushed off. The front desk staff was especially great in assisting me. I'm scheduled to go back for a mri and am glad that I'll be going there.read more
Isabel Ivy
Isabel Ivy
21:42 03 Nov 21
I had such a good experience with Lone Star Neurology, Brent my MRI Tech was so awesome and made sure I was very... comfortable during the appointment. He gave me ear plugs, a pillow, leg support and blanket, easiest MRI ever lol 🤣 My 72 hour EEG nurse Amanda was also so awesome. She made sure I was take care of over the 3 days and took her time with the electrodes to make sure it was comfortable for me! Paige was also a huge help in answering all my questions when it came to my test results, and letting me know her honest opinions about how I should go forth with my treatment.read more
Leslie Luce
Leslie Luce
17:37 20 Oct 21
The professionalism and want to help attitude of this office was present from the moment I contacted them. The follow... up and follow through as well as their willingness to find a way to schedule my dad was above and beyond. We visited two offices in the same day with the same experience. I am appreciative of this—we spend a lot of time with doctors and this was top notch start to finish.read more
robert Parker
robert Parker
16:38 16 Apr 21
I love going to this office. The staff is friendly and helpful. The doctor is great. I am getting the best... neurological tests and treatment I have ever had. The only reason I did not give them a 5 star rating is because it is impossible to reach a live person at the office to reschedule appointments. Every time I have tried to get through to the office it says all people are busy and I am sent to a voicemail. If they could get their phone answering fixed, I would give them a strong 5 stars.read more
MaryAnn Hornbaker
MaryAnn Hornbaker
00:26 25 Feb 21
Dr. Harney is an excellent Dr. I found him friendly , personable and thorough. I evidently am an unusual case. ... Therefore he spent a Hugh amount of time educating me. He even gave me literature to further explain my condition and how to follow up. This is something you rarely get from your doctors. So I am more than please with my doctor and his staff.read more
Roger Arguello
Roger Arguello
03:05 29 Jan 21
Always courteous, professional. The staff is very friendly and always work with you to find the best appointment time.... The care team has been great. Always taking the time to listen to your concerns and to find the best treatment.read more
Margaret Rowland
Margaret Rowland
01:12 27 Jan 21
I have been a patient at Lone Star Neurology for several years. Now both my adult daughters also are patients there. I... love Jodie. She is always so prompt whether it is a teleamed call are a visit in the office. She takes the time to explain everything to me and answers all my questions. I am so blessed to have Jodie as my doctor.read more
Susan Miller
Susan Miller
03:01 13 Jan 21
My husband had an accident 5 years ago and Lone Star Neurology has been such a blessing to us with my husbands care.... Jodie Moore is his provider and she is amazing! Jodie is very knowledgeable, caring, and thorough. She takes her time with you, making sure your needs are met and she is happy to answer any questions you may have. Lone Star Neurology’s patients are very lucky to have Jodie providing their care. Thank you Lone Star Neurology and especially Jodie for everything you have done for us. Jodie, you are the best!read more
Windalyn C
Windalyn C
01:32 09 Jan 21
Jodie is wonderful. She is very caring and knowledgeable. I have been to over a dozen neurologists, and none were able... to help me as much as they have here. Thanks!read more
Katie Kordel
Katie Kordel
00:40 09 Jan 21
Jodi Moore, nurse practitioner, is amazing. I have suffered from frequent, debilitating headaches for almost 20 years.... She has provided the best proactive and responsive care I have ever received. My quality of life has been greatly improved by her caring approach and tenacity in finding solutions.read more
Ellie Natsis
Ellie Natsis
15:41 07 Jan 21
I have had the best experience at this neurologist's office! For over a year I have been receiving iv treatments here... each month and my nurse, Bobbie is beyond wonderful!! She's so attentive, knowledgeable, caring, and detail oriented. She makes an otherwise uncomfortable experience much more pleasant and definitely puts me at ease! She also helps me with my insurance,ordering this specialty medication and dealing with the ordering process which is no easy feat.Needless to say, she goes above a beyond in every way and I'm so grateful to this office and to Bobbie for all they do for me!read more
Matt Morris
Matt Morris
15:39 07 Jan 21
Let me start by saying that I have been coming here for years. Due to my autoimmune disease, I am in this office... once every three weeks for multiple hours at a time. The office is very clean and the staff very friendly. My only complaint would be there communication via phone. They aren't the best at responding if you leave a voicemail and expect a call back. I understand that this is prob just due to the sheer number of alls they receive daily. What I can say I like the best about the office are the people. Bobby who handles my infusions is great. I never have any issues with her setting up my infusions. She is very quick to reply to messages sent via text and if she were to leave then my whole opinion of the office may change. I also enjoy people like Matt, Lauren, and Jodi. I appreciate all that they do for me and without this team I'm not sure I would be as happy as I am to visit the office as frequently as I have to. Please ensure that these folks are recognized as they are what makes my visit to this office so tolerable :).read more
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  1. November 18, 2023

    It was better to mention dosage of NSAIDS and glucocorticoiods for management of neuritis for specialists

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