top of page

What is Ulnar Nerve Compression and What Can You Do About It?

The ulnar nerve is a nerve which runs along your ulna (the bone in your forearm on the same side as your pinky finger) which provides nerve signals to parts of your forearm and to a large part of your hand. Whenever you do anything with your hands, the ulnar nerves are supplying a lot of the signals that make them work.

Sometimes, the ulnar nerve can become compressed or entrapped at different places in your arm; commonly at the elbow or wrist, or occasionally higher up in the arm near your shoulder. When this happens, the signal that travels along the ulnar nerve can be weakened or halted completely. Common symptoms of ulnar nerve entrapment include:

  • Pain

  • Numbness and/or tingling in the fingers (usually the pinky and ring finger)

  • In more advanced cases, weakness and loss of motor function in the affected hand and fingers

*Photo from Health Direct

Left untreated for too long, advanced cases of ulnar nerve compression can lead to permanent loss of function and muscle atrophy in the affected hand. However, many cases of ulnar nerve entrapment start with milder symptoms and preventative treatment can stop things from getting to that point. If you work with a physical therapist, they can teach you different exercises known as nerve glides to help free the ulnar nerve from its entrapment. They’ll also instruct you in ways to alleviate any pressure you put on your ulnar nerve, particularly:

  • Avoiding leaning on your elbows

  • Avoiding keeping your elbow bent sharply for prolonged periods of time (such as sleeping with your arm bent)

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may receive an electromyography to help determine where the ulnar nerve is being compressed. This test involves placing needle electrodes into your muscles while you flex them to measure the electrical activity. The procedure is brief but a little bit uncomfortable and can be performed in your local orthopedic office.

If your ulnar nerve entrapment is severe enough, you may require a surgical procedure known as ulnar nerve release. In this procedure, an incision is made at the site of your ulnar nerve entrapment and connective tissues around the nerve will be cut to make more room for the nerve and relieve the compression. If necessary, the nerve may be relocated slightly to put it in a position where it is less likely to become compressed again in the future. This is an outpatient procedure, so you can return home the same day. Your surgeon will instruct you to avoid lifting anything that weighs more than a few pounds on the affected side for 4 to 8 weeks depending on the exact procedure performed on you. However you will be able to resume many normal activities almost immediately. Care should be taken when showering to keep your incisions dry while they heal.

During and after your recovery, your physical therapist can work with you to restore any strength or dexterity you may have lost while your ulnar nerve was compressed. Treated proactively, the outlook is good and most people make a complete recovery from instances of acute ulnar nerve compression.


bottom of page