Minimally-Invasive Treatments for Ulnar Nerve Entrapment: Relief Without Surgery

Did you know that the ulnar nerve, located in the arm from the neck to the hand, is often called the “funny bone” of the elbow? However, despite its humorous nickname, any injury to this nerve can seriously impact the functionality and stability of the hand. 

Ulnar nerve entrapment, or cubital tunnel syndrome, occurs when the nerve is compressed or trapped along its path in the arm. This condition can be caused by repetitive stress or overuse of the elbow in a flexed or bent position. Typical symptoms of ulnar nerve entrapment include tingling, numbness, pain in the little or ring finger, and sometimes throughout the entire hand. 

When detected in the early stages, non-surgical treatments are typically recommended and have shown to be effective in managing mild symptoms. However, seeking medical attention promptly to prevent complications and restore normal hand function as soon as possible is important.

Scroll down to discover more about the conservative, non-invasive, and minimally invasive treatments for ulnar nerve entrapment.

Non-Surgical Treatments for Ulnar Nerve Entrapment

There are many non-surgical treatments for ulnar nerve entrapment. Some of these treatments are provided below:

  • Rest and Immobilization

Taking ample rest is the primary step in the ulnar nerve damage treatment to help you avoid pressure on your elbow and alleviate the condition’s symptoms. Besides, incorporating a healthy posture will also relieve pressure on your elbow, especially when using your phone or laptop.

You can even use bracing, splinting, and other assistive devices to immobilise your affected arm for a few days or longer to avoid further damage. You may wear a splint at night to prevent the arm from bending while you sleep. 

  • Hand Therapy

Studies show that hand therapy is one of the most effective and potent treatment approaches for ulnar nerve entrapment. Occupational and physical therapists will perform it to help you return to your normal daily activities as soon as possible. The individualized treatment plan involves stretching and strengthening exercises for your hands, arms, and elbow.

  • Medications

Your healthcare professional might prescribe over-the-counter pain relievers to reduce pain and stiffness. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin and ibuprofen decrease swelling and prevent the progression of symptoms due to ulnar nerve entrapment.

Minimally-Invasive Procedures for Ulnar Nerve Entrapment

Besides the non-surgical procedures, there are certain minimally invasive treatments for ulnar nerve entrapment. So, let’s look at them in detail below.

  • Nerve Gliding Exercises

The exercises target the orthopedic condition involving irritation or nerve inflammation, especially cubital tunnel syndrome. 

It gently mobilizes the trapped or compressed nerve by performing a set of simple yet effective stretches and exercises. It is proven to increase the range of motion in hands, prevent nerve damage and proactively relieve pain. 

  • Corticosteroid Injections

The injections are typically suggested as the minimally-invasive treatment approach for ulnar nerve entrapment. Cortisone in the steroid injection is a potent anti-inflammatory substance that helps reduce pain and inflammation. The procedure’s key is injecting the cortisone below and above the trapping site area.

  • Ultrasound-Guided Hydro Dissection

Ultrasound-guided hydro dissection is the new and advanced treatment for entrapped nerves, which are compressed or restricted due to trauma, injury, overuse, or the formation of scar tissues from surgical procedures. The procedure is considered an alternative to open surgery in some cases. 

Nerve hydro dissection releases the trapped nerve from the scar tissue or surrounding muscles using special fluid. It is a great way for athletes and non-athletes to restore mobility and relieve severe knee pain.

  • Percutaneous Release Surgery

Percutaneous refers to the procedure made through the skin. The process uses a sharp needle to treat the affected nerve while preventing damage to the surrounding nerves. 

The needle will break the constricting tissue around the nerves and place it in its original position. The decompression of tissues will create more room for the nerves, preventing them from getting irritated or pinched as you bend the elbow.

  • Endoscopic Release Surgery

In endoscopic release surgery, the orthopedic surgeon will use an endoscope and telescope-like equipment attached to a tiny camera to perform the surgery. A small incision in your wrist will release the constricted nerve from the surrounding tissues. This minimally invasive surgery allows prompt recovery and less postoperative pain or discomfort than open surgical procedures.

Recovery and Rehabilitation After Minimally-Invasive Procedures

The period for ulnar nerve entrapment recovery will take up to six weeks. During this time, you must work with your physical therapist to follow healthy and condition-related exercises to regain your range of motion and strength in the arm. 

Minimally-invasive procedures are generally performed after administering local anaesthesia, and there is no need for an overnight stay at the hospital. 

During the healing period, the ligament tissues in the affected elbow will gradually regenerate, allowing more nerve space and preventing the condition’s recurrence. After having a follow-up consultation with your orthopaedic specialist, you can return to your day-to-day life activities as per the instruction from the doctor. 

You can engage in strenuous physical activities and sports once you have restored complete mobility with no pain or related symptoms in the affected hand. 

Benefits of Minimally-Invasive Treatments

  • Less Pain

Unlike open surgery, minimally-invasive procedures cause less pain, and little discomfort to the patins as these aren’t traumatic to the body.

  • Shorter Recovery Time

The shorter recovery time is another benefit of minimally invasive treatment. The small incisions induce a faster healing process, which means the patients can do their normal activities more quickly. Usually, the individual recovers around 6 weeks.

  • Increased Accuracy

A higher accuracy rate is the primary reason to choose minimally invasive treatment for trapped nerves. With video-assisting equipment, the surgeon will have a better view and magnification of the internal structure. As a result, it helps provide definite procedures and accurate results.

  • Decreased Injury or Scarring

Since the procedure requires only a smaller incision, there will be fewer chances for tissue scarring and injury. It also reduces the risk of complications during the procedure, like blood loss and infections.

Conclusion

Ulnar nerve entrapment occurs due to the compression or damage of the ulnar nerve. You might experience pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness along your forearm and hand. 

It ultimately will damage the communication between the brain and hand, limiting your routine. Therefore it is important to treat it early to ensure a proper and prompt healing process. Ulnar nerve entrapment treatment doesn’t usually have to involve surgical procedures. 

Most individuals with moderate symptoms tend to opt for a non-invasive approach. Your orthopaedic specialist will advise you to rest your affected elbow and hand while avoiding certain activities that can worsen your symptoms. In addition, you can also take the necessary steps and implement healthy lifestyle changes to prevent the occurrence of ultra-nerve entrapment.

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