Cubital tunnel syndrome

cubital tunnel1

Cubital tunnel syndrome is the second commonest peripheral nerve compression neuropathy within the higher limb. It represents a supply of sizable discomfort and incapacity for the patient, and in extreme cases might attain loss of function of the hand. hinge joint tunnel syndrome remains associate degree typically misdiagnosed condition.

In this article, I think about the aetiology of the syndrome, its clinical presentation and current ideas relating to treatment.

The cubital tunnel is made by the cubital tunnel retinaculum that straddles a spot of regarding four millimeter between the medial outgrowth and also the olecranon process. 1 In turn, the ground of the tunnel is made by the capsule and also the posterior band of the medial collateral ligament of the articulatio cubiti.  It contains many structures, the foremost vital of that is that the nervus ulnaris.

The nervus ulnaris is that the terminal branch of the medial twine of the plexus brachialis, and contains fibres from the C8 and T1 nervus spinalis roots. It descends the arm simply anterior to the medial intermuscular septum and later pierces this septum within the final third of its length. Progressing beneath the septum and adjacent to the triceps muscle, it traverses the hinge joint tunnel to enter the forearm wherever it passes between the 2 heads of the flexor muscle carpi ulnaris muscle.

This anatomical arrangement has 2 implications for the nerve. Firstly, the arm bone follows a comparatively strained path, and second, it lies a long way from the axis of rotation of the articulatio cubiti. Movement of the elbow thus needs the nerve to each stretch and slide through the cubital tunnel. sliding has the best role during this method, though the nerve itself will stretch by up to five millimeter.

The unusual anatomy of the cubital tunnel and also the well‐recognised increase in intraneural pressure related to elbow flexion are believed to be key problems within the pathological process of hinge joint tunnel syndrome. additionally, the form of the tunnel changes from an oval to an conic with elbow flexion. This manoeuvre additionally narrows the canal by fifty fifth. Elbow flexion, wrist joint extension and shoulder abduction will increase intraneural pressure by sixfold.

There are 5 principal locations wherever the nervus ulnaris is also compressed round the elbow:

1.         Arcade of Struthers

2.         medial intermuscular septum

3.         medial outgrowth

4.         hinge joint tunnel

5.         deep flexor muscle fascia.

Of these, the hinge joint tunnel is far and away the foremost common.

It has long been recognised that the substance of the cubital tunnel retinaculum will vary dramatically between people. In 1991, O’Driscoll revealed the results of an in depth (27 cases) cadaveric study within which he tried to divide these variations into four sorts. in an exceedingly tiny proportion of patients, the retinacular tissue was found to be utterly absent (type 0).

In others—as was already understood—it could be a system referred to as the anconeus epitrochlearis (O’Driscoll sort II). O’Driscoll thought-about a fibrous retinaculum to be a lot of usual, and during this state of affairs, it’s historically observed because the arciform ligament or Osborne’s band. Phylogenetically, O’Driscoll thought-about the arciform ligament to represent a remnant of the anconeus epitrochlearis muscle.

This careful study additionally noted that the tightness of the fibrous retinaculum varied with the position of the elbow. most ordinarily (type Ia), it absolutely was tense fully flexion and lax in extension, with a couple of cases being tense at 90–120° of flexion (type Ib). O’Driscoll went on to invest that these delicate variations in anatomy would possibly justify why some patients appear to be a lot of susceptible to cubital tunnel syndrome than others. as an example, an absent ligament might dispose to luxation of the nerve.

The Arcade of Struthers is another, variable structure that’s a rare reason behind primary cubital tunnel syndrome. in a dead body study of sixty limbs, Siqueria and Mortins2 reported  solely eight (13.5%) limbs wherever this musculotendinous structure was discernible, 3–10 cm on top of the medial outgrowth. once present, it didn’t appear to compress the nervus ulnaris.

However, Siqueria additionally acknowledged that the Arcade of Struthers functions as a probable site for “secondary compression”. when transposition of the nervus ulnaris, it’s common for the mobilised nerve to come back under tension on the Arcade of Struthers or medial intermuscular septum, inflicting secondary impingement.

Box 1: Anatomical sites for nervus ulnaris compression

1.         C8 radiculopathy

2.         thoracic outlet syndrome

3.         The cubital tunnel itself

4.         Compression among Guyon’s canal

5.         2 or additional of the above—that is, double crush syndrome


Who gets cubital tunnel syndrome?

As with all nerve disorders, patients with diabetes are at inflated risk of nervus ulnaris symptoms.

Cubital tunnel syndrome is additionally more common in patients whose work involves prolonged periods of elbow flexion (such as holding telephones). specifically, flexion with the elbow ironed against a tough surface will increase the danger of cubital tunnel syndrome, a minimum of part, thanks to the rise within the intraneural pressure during this position. people who have had an immediate blow against the nervus ulnaris also are in danger, as are those with marked varus or valgus deformity at the elbow found that the foremost risk factors for cubital tunnel syndrome were avoirdupois and holding a tool in an exceedingly constant position, acting a repetitive task.

The existence of alternative higher limb work‐related contractile organ disorders was additionally found to be a risk issue. Such disorders embrace medial inflammation (golfers elbow) and alternative higher limb defense syndromes like cervicobrachial neuralgy, carpal tunnel syndrome and radial tunnel syndrome.

Kakosy studied Hungarian employees operational vibratory tools and located an inflated rate of higher limb neurology, together with hinge joint tunnel syndrome in 42.5% of 167 patients.

The american and Japanese literature places an important stress on the status of baseball throwers to cubital tunnel syndrome. nervus ulnaris symptoms throughout that a part of the throwing cycle that involves extreme flexion (late cocking, early acceleration) is powerfully suggestive hinge joint tunnel syndrome.

Seror and Nathan investigated 882 French and 818 who patients who had higher limb electrical tests. In each countries, the danger of an abnormal electrical take a look at was a pair of to one for gliding joint versus elbow. However, a median nerve with an abnormal electrical take a look at was double as seemingly to be symptomatic as an nervus ulnaris with abnormal electrical tests, with the result that the quantitative relation of median to arm bone clinical issues was four to one.

These results imply that, in some patients with carpal tunnel syndrome who still have symptoms when surgery, the underlying downside is also an unknown cubital tunnel syndrome.

Risks of operation

•           Complications of nervus ulnaris unharness

•           Persistent dysaesthesia

•           Reflex sympathetic dystrophy

•           Haematoma

•           Infection

•           Neuroma of the medial limb and medial antebrachial connective tissue nerves

•           Persistent sensory deficit

•           Persistent weakness

•           Medial epicondylectomy

•           Risk of injury to medial collateral ligaments


Mechanisms for peripheral nerve injury

Compression, traction and friction are involved in cubital tunnel syndrome.

Compression is sometimes thought to be the principal mechanism of nerve injury in peripheral pathology injury might occur either by direct mechanical compression or by compression of the intrinsic blood provide to the nerve, that successively causes native anemia. Mechanical compression forces of thirty mm Hg retard blood flow.

8 equally, compression has been shown to interfere with nerve fiber transport pathways.

Larger fibres containing a lot of myeline are a lot of at risk of compression than smaller non‐myelinated fibres.

9 Compression is handiest at the edge of the compression space within the so‐called “edge effect”.

Pre‐existing subclinical mechanical compression of the nerve at a distinct location might increase the status of constant nerve to compression at a second, a lot of distal, site (the so‐called “double crush” development.

Previous injuries to the nerve might tether it to the walls of the tunnel, forestall traditional sliding and expose it to traction injuries. Similarly, a good tunnel might dispose the nerve to friction and compression.

Diabetes mellitus

Diabetes makes a nerve a lot of at risk of compression. this might occur secondary to a microvascular injury within the nerve inflicting native anemia or by meddling with the innate metabolism of the nerve. there’s proof of injury to nerve fiber transport within the nerve. diabetes might increase the danger of injury in an exceedingly manner like mechanical double crush.

Symptoms and signs of nervus ulnaris impingement

Patients with nervus ulnaris compression at any level have altered sensation within the very little and ring fingers. Indeed, in most patients, sensory loss is that the initial symptom to be reported . because the condition progresses, they will additionally notice clumsiness within the hand, because the nervus ulnaris is that the principal motor provide to the intrinsic muscles of the hand. In well‐established cases, there is also marked wasting of the little muscles of the hand and also the ulnar‐sided muscles of the forearm.

The examining doctor might rummage around for Froment’s sign, open clawing of the ulnar‐innervated digits (usually the insufficient and ring fingers) and abduction of the insufficient fingers (Wartenberg’s sign).

Inspection of the elbow in extension might show a valgus deformity, presumably secondary to a previous fracture round the elbow. Malunion when supracondylar fracture of the arm bone may result in an adult cubitus valgus deformity, that successively predisposes to a late nervus ulnaris palsy.

13 In a non‐traumatic case of cubital tunnel syndrome, the foremost possible cause is nervus ulnaris defense, however the nerve will be compressed at any position on its length (box 1).

In the uncommon case of compression in Guyon’s canal, sensation is preserved over the dorsum of the hand. Here sensation is from the dorsal connective tissue branch of the nervus ulnaris that comes off proximal to Guyon’s canal, and thus remains intact.

Tinel’s sign ought to be positive over the hinge joint tunnel itself, though some surgeons notice it easier to elicit Tinel’s cede the medial aspect of the arm bone.

McGowan Score

Grading system for nervus ulnaris pathology

1.         delicate occasional paresthesia, positive Tinel’s sign, subjective weakness

2.         Moderate paresthesia, objective weakness, positive Tinel’s sign

3.         Severe constant paresthesia, weakness, open muscle wasting


The elbow flexion take a look at could be a helpful correct provocative take a look at for cubital tunnel syndrome.



In essence, cubital tunnel syndrome could be a clinical designation that’s confirmed with nerve conductivity studies.

In delicate cases, nerve conductivity studies is also traditional. Electrodiagnostic tests should, however, be taken as a part of the clinical image. Nathan et al15 compared surgical  and operative nerve conductivity studies and discovered that in some patients, though the target finding of nerve conductivity improved markedly, the patients delineate very little or no improvement in symptoms.

x Rays round the elbow might show degenerative joint disease, cubitus valgus or calcification within the medial collateral ligament, and will be taken if there’s a history of pre‐existing trauma or once the symptoms don’t slot in with the clinical examination.

Magnetic resonance imaging and ultrasound are projected as investigations to verify cubital tunnel syndrome, and are helpful in showing lesions like ganglions, neuromas or aneurysms of the arteria in Guyon’s canal inflicting compression pathology. In clinical observe, however, it’s uncommon to request these tests.


Conservative treatment

A designation of cubital tunnel syndrome doesn’t in itself necessitate surgery. Some authors have emphatic the importance of patient education.

For example, it’s cheap to recommend that the patient avoids provocative activities, like prolonged periods of elbow flexion.

Padua studied the explanation of twenty four patients with cubital tunnel syndrome who declined surgery. They discovered that regarding half their untreated patients reported improvement in symptoms at follow‐up.

This subjective improvement was supported by enhancements within the nerve conductivity velocities round the elbow. Most patients reported  dynamic  their arm posture when the designation was created. This Italian study looks to verify the anecdotal observation that delicate cases of cubital tunnel syndrome might resolve impromptu while not operation.

Dellon investigated 128 patients, of whom forty three had bilateral nervus ulnaris compression. All patients were at the start treated cautiously, though several needed ensuant surgery. A history of elbow injury significantly worsened the result, however the results of pretreatment electrodiagnosis did not meet the requirement for surgery.

However, in an exceedingly cooperative patient with objective neurology, most surgeons would suggest surgical unharness.

Surgical treatment for hinge joint tunnel syndrome

All surgical procedures carry risk (box 2), and there’s dialogue among the profession on after we ought to operate this condition.

In observation, operation is obtainable for a lot of severe cases and wherever conservative management is deemed to own unsuccessful.

Surgical unharness involves incising lengthways over the cubital tunnel to unharness the encompassing retinacular fibres. This procedure should be performed with some care, as injury to tiny branches of the nerve might result in painful tumor. Some surgeons merely decompress the nerve in place whereas others commit to mobilise the nerve freely and transpose it anteriorly out of the cubital tunnel.

Nathan investigated 102 cases (74 patients) of cubital tunnel syndrome treated by straightforward decompression in place. His study found that girls did better than men, and additionally noted that operative weight gain was a foul prognostic sign. Curiously, those patients who additionally had a carpal tunnel release did higher, with the attainable implication that several cases of cubital tunnel syndrome are sophisticated by unknown carpal tunnel syndrome.

Some surgeons believe that a unharness ought to be supplemented by medial epicondylectomy.20,21 This eliminates the medial outgrowth as a supply of compression.

The remaining choices involve transposition of the nervus ulnaris, within which the operating surgeon moves the nerve anteriorly. this needs complete liberating of the nerve, and a few surgeons consider this uncalled-for, as injury to the blood supply (the vasa vasorum) might result in a secondary ischemic redness.

Such an approach additionally exposes the nerve to the chance of secondary compression at the amount of the ligament of Struthers or at the intermuscular septum, and most up-to-date surgeons would thus unharness these structures within the same procedure. The reversed nerve will then be left in one among 3 locations: subcutaneous, intramuscular or submuscular.

Fitzgerald retrospectively investigated twenty patients of military service at a mean follow‐up of twenty four months, and located that when submuscular nerve transposition, nineteen of twenty patients had came to active duties. Objective markers of hand operate additionally improved. One patient developed permanent injury to his medial antebrachial connective tissue nerve. Of the twenty patients, nineteen aforesaid they might bear the procedure once more.

Nabham compared transposition of the nervus ulnaris with straightforward decompression and located no distinction in outcome. This randomized study of sixty six patients diode the authors to suggest decompression in place for the nervus ulnaris, as a lot of elaborate techniques carry the danger of long‐term elbow instability.

Some authors investigated the particular downside of long‐established severe nervus ulnaris compression (McGowan grade 3). Matsuzaki studied a series of fifteen patients with severe hinge joint tunnel syndrome including marked wasting of intrinsic muscles, claw hand deformity and immeasurable (electrically silent) nerve conductivity studies. purposeful improvement beyond two years was discovered during this cluster, though patients >70 years old showed a slower recovery (box 3).

In the past decade, numerous authors have delineate examination unharness of the nervus ulnaris.25,26 Tsai et al25described a series of seventy six patients (85 elbows) treated by examination unharness of the tunnel. The authors complete that examination unharness could be a safe and reliable treatment for the condition, notably in patients with delicate to moderate symptoms.

However, it ought to be remembered that the proponents of examination unharness try to exchange a well‐understood and often‐performed open procedure with a technically difficult different that needs specialist instrumentation. Open surgery for this condition isn’t related to an extended or obvious scar, and also the obvious gain of examination release—a smaller incision—will not be enough to persuade all surgeons of the technique.

Revision surgery

The results of revision surgery are typically unsatisfactory in cubital tunnel syndrome. Patients aged 50 years do notably badly. Operative electromyelogram proof of denervation could be a dangerous prognostic index.


Cubital tunnel syndrome is that the second commonest reason for peripheral nerve compression pathology within the higher limb. it’s a lot of common in sure occupations. Patients who have diabetes and people who have sustained injuries or chronic modification round the elbow also are at inflated risk.

Education of patients and orthotics might facilitate to alleviate symptoms, however in additional severe cases surgical release is effective. there’s in progress dialogue among the profession on what constitutes the optimum surgical approach. The procedure is related to some risk of complications, and protracted cases referred for re‐exploration might not respond to surgery.