Ulnar nerve pain arises when the ulnar nerve, which runs the length of the arm, is damaged or compressed. The ulnar nerve, which branches off the spinal cord at the point where the cervical (neck) and thoracic (middle back) regions meet, innervates several muscle groups in the arms, hands, and fingers. It also provides sensory perception for a portion of the palm and the fourth and fifth fingers. The ulnar nerve is vulnerable to entrapment at any point along its length, from the brachial plexus adjacent to the cervical spine to the wrist. Quite often, entrapment of the ulnar nerve results in a tingling sensation, as well as radiating pain.
Causes of ulnar nerve pain
Most ulnar nerve pain can be attributed to constant or repetitive pressure being placed on the elbow. People who sleep with their arm folded under them might wake up with tingling, numbness, or weakness in the hand after several hours of excess weight on the elbow. Similarly, people who regularly rest their elbow on a chair arm at work, or on an arm rest while driving, might develop ulnar nerve pain or numbness in the fourth and fifth fingers.
While the elbow is most frequently associated with ulnar nerve abnormalities, a degenerative condition of the spine located between the seventh cervical vertebra and the first thoracic vertebra might lead to compression of the medial cord, off of which the ulnar nerve branches within the brachial plexus. Compression of any of the eight cervical nerve roots (and the first thoracic nerve root) can produce tingling, numbness, weakness or radiating pain in the shoulders, arms or other parts of the upper body. Rarely, a condition known as thoracic outlet syndrome may affect the nerves and blood vessels that pass through the rib cage and collar bone, and symptoms may emulate ulnar nerve compression.
Treatment for ulnar nerve pain
More often than not, ulnar nerve pain is temporary rather than chronic. However, if symptoms persist for three months or longer, a doctor may recommend physical therapy or other forms of conservative treatment. If the pain is related to nerve compression within the cervical spine, surgery may become an option. If so, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn about the many benefits of a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure performed using advanced techniques.