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Ulnar nerve dysfunction

Contents of this page:


Ulnar nerve damage
Ulnar nerve damage

Alternative Names    Return to top

Neuropathy - ulnar nerve; Ulnar nerve palsy

Definition    Return to top

Ulnar nerve dysfunction is a problem with the nerve that travels from the wrist to the shoulder, which leads to movement or sensation problems in the wrist and hand.

Causes    Return to top

Ulnar nerve dysfunction is a common form of peripheral neuropathy. It occurs when there is damage to the ulnar nerve, which travels down the arm. The ulnar nerve is near the surface of the body where it crosses the elbow, so long-term pressure on the elbow may cause damage.

The damage involves the destruction of the nerve covering (myelin sheath) or part of the nerve (axon). This damage slows or prevents nerve signaling.

A problem with one single nerve group (such as the ulnar nerve) is called mononeuropathy. The usual causes are:

Entrapment involves pressure on the nerve where it passes through a narrow structure.

The ulnar nerve is commonly injured at the elbow because of elbow fracture or dislocation. Prolonged pressure on the base of the palm may also damage part of the ulnar nerve. Temporary pain and tingling of this nerve is common if the elbow is hit, producing the experience of hitting the "funny bone" at the elbow.

In some cases, no cause can be found.

Symptoms    Return to top

Pain or numbness may awaken you from sleep. Activities such as tennis or golf make the condition worse.

Exams and Tests    Return to top

An exam of the hand and wrist can reveal ulnar nerve dysfunction. Signs may include:

A detailed history may be needed to determine the cause of the neuropathy.

Tests may include:

Treatment    Return to top

The goal of treatment is to allow you to use the hand and arm as much as possible. The cause should be identified and treated. Sometimes, no treatment is required and you will get better on your own.

Treatments may include:

Outlook (Prognosis)    Return to top

If the cause of the dysfunction can be found and successfully treated, you may make a full recovery.

Disability can vary from none to partial or complete loss of movement or sensation. Nerve pain may be uncomfortable and last a long time. If pain is severe and continuing, see a pain specialist to be sure you have access to all pain treatment options.

Possible Complications    Return to top

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

Call your health care provider if:

Early diagnosis and treatment increase the chance of controlling the symptoms.

Prevention    Return to top

Prevention varies depending on the cause. Avoid prolonged pressure on the elbow or palm. Casts, splints, and other appliances should always be examined for proper fit.

Update Date: 9/25/2008

Updated by: Daniel B. Hoch, PhD, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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