What is a cubital tunnel release?

The ulnar nerve travels down through the cubital tunnel inside the elbow. When the elbow is bent, the ulnar nerve can stretch and catch on the bony bump, causing it to become entrapped. When the nerve is trapped, it can cause severe pain, numbness and tingling in the pinkie and ring finger, and requires a surgery called a cubital tunnel release surgery, to free the nerve.

What does treatment involve?

Non-surgical treatment may involve a splint being worn at night to ensure the elbow stays in a straight position, however, surgery may be needed if symptoms of severe nerve comprehension are present. To prevent nerve damage, Dr Heymans may perform a cubital tunnel release under general anaesthesia. For mild compression of the nerve, he may choose to remove or shave away the bony bump in the elbow to allow the ulnar nerve to glide through the cubital tunnel smoothly. In more severe cases, a new tunnel may need to be created, and the ulnar nerve will need to be moved to the new tunnel.

What can I expect in terms of recovery?

After a cubital tunnel release, some swelling, pain and stiffness along the elbow and arm are to be expected. Your arm will be immobilised with a splint temporarily to allow healing of the elbow and ulnar nerve. After one week, the splint may be removed, and you may now stretch the arm and elbow. After a few weeks of recovery, Dr Heymans will advise you to begin with physiotherapy to enhance the mobility of the joint. While recovery depends on which of the surgeries was done, most patients can return to normal within 6 - 8 weeks of surgery.