When bones, muscles, cartilage or tendons apply too much pressure on a nerve, you develop a condition called pinched nerve. Too much pressure can affect the nerve's function and may even cause tingling, numbness, pain and weakness. A pinched nerve can occur at different sites in your body. You may have it in your wrist, spine, neck, elbow, etc. A pinched nerve in elbow can be quite painful but rest and other conservative treatments really help find relief. In rare cases, you need surgery for pain relief.
Why Does Pinched Nerve in Elbow Happen?
As mentioned already, a pinched nerve is the outcome of too much pressure on your nerve. Pinched nerves in elbow may be the result of one of the following conditions.
1. Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
Also known as ulnar neuropathy, cubital tunnel syndrome is caused by increased pressure on the ulnar nerve. The nerve passes through the area of the elbow and becomes affected when you lean repeatedly on your elbow on a hard surface. Bending your elbow for long may also lead to cubital tunnel syndrome.
The most common symptoms include numbness and pain in the elbow with tingling in the ring and little fingers. Other symptoms are muscle wasting in the hand, decreased overall handgrip, weakness in the little and ring fingers, and claw-like deformity of the hand.
2. Pronator Teres Syndrome
The median nerve passes between the two parts of pronator teres muscle in the arm, but sometimes it becomes trapped between the two parts, causing numbness, pain, and tingling in the hand and forearm. The condition is called pronator teres syndrome.
The most common symptoms are quite similar to carpal tunnel syndrome and include numbness or tingling in the thumb, palm and three fingers. You may also experience tenderness with an aching sensation when you press in on the pronator teres muscle in your arm.
3. Posterior Interosseous Nerve Syndrome
The deep motor branch of the radial nerve is posterior interosseous nerve. You develop this condition when a branch of the radial nerve is compressed. It is different from other conditions involving pinched nerve in elbow because it does not involve a loss of sensation, such as tingling or numbness.
While you may not experience tingling or numbness, there will be weakness of the fingers and wrist. Due to the symptoms and pain on the outside of the elbow, it is often misdiagnosed as tennis elbow. Extending your elbow and pronation of the forearm may worsen your symptoms. You may also experience pain when extending the middle finger. When you develop this condition, you also find it difficult to extend your thumb. It is equally painful to extend other digits at the metacarpophalangeal joints.
4. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The carpal tunnel is basically a narrow passageway bound by ligaments and bones. It is precisely located on the palm side of your wrist with a main nerve passing through it. The passageway may become narrow due to different reasons and exert pressure on the nerve, causing pain and numbness. Certain underlying health problems, the anatomy of your wrist, and patterns of hand use increase your risk for developing this condition.
Caused by a pinched nerve in your wrist, carpal tunnel syndrome is a hand and arm condition that causes tingling and numbness with other symptoms. You experience tingling in your hand and fingers – it usually affects your thumb as well as your ring, middle, and index fingers. It does not affect your little finger. You experience pain when holding a steering wheel, newspaper or phone. Weakness in your hand is also a symptom of carpal tunnel syndrome.
5. Other Causes
In addition, you may develop a pinched nerve in elbow when certain conditions compress a nerve or nerves. The most common conditions include injury, rheumatoid arthritis, poor posture, sports activities, stress from repetitive work and obesity. Pressure caused by these conditions disrupts the nerve's function and may cause permanent damage if the nerve stays pinched for a long time. Nerve function usually returns to normal once the pressure is no longer there.
How to Deal With Pinched Nerves in Elbow
When you a pinched nerve, you can take several steps to make your condition manageable. For instance:
- Avoid what may have caused a pinched nerve. Activity avoidance usually helps treat the condition. You also need to stop moving your wrist in a way that puts pressure on the nerve. To avoid bending and straightening your wrists, you should consider wearing a splint.
- Take anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce pain and inflammation. NSAIDs often help by reducing inflammation in the nerve and surrounding tissues.
- Taking steroid injections may help when other treatment options do not work. Your doctor will recommend injections only when compression is too severe or chronic to be treated with oral medications. Injecting cortisone in a localized fashion produces better results.
- Physical therapies work well to treat mild cases of pinched nerve in elbow. Your therapist may recommend wearing elbow pad during daily activities. Wrist splints help limit movements during sleep and promote recovery.
- Applying ice will help with pain and swelling. You should be applying a cold compress for 10-15 minutes every hour at least thrice a day.
- Consider acupuncture treatment to release muscular tension. Many people have experienced pain relief through acupuncture. Massage therapy may also prove beneficial.
- Make a conscious effort to avoid sleeping on your hands to decrease your numbness and pain in the wrists.
- Stretch your fingers and palms and rotate wrists regularly to get relief.
- Surgery should be used when nothing else works. Surgical release of the nerve is the ultimate treatment option and involves releasing the bands of supportive tissues to take pressure off the nerve.