How I Treated Ulnar Nerve Entrapment Myself (Cubital Tunnel Syndrome)

ulnar nerve entrapmentEarlier this week I noticed some numbness and tingling in my right pinky and ring finger.  As a Physical Therapist, I knew my ulnar nerve was probably involved.  When the ulnar nerve is compressed or irritated, we call this cubital tunnel syndrome or simply ulnar nerve entrapment.

The most common symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome involves numbness and tingling in the pinky and ring finger. This numbness and tingling in the pinky and ring finger can happen from a number of reasons: 

– Holding a cell phone with a flexed elbow
– Sleeping with bent elbows or arm behind your head
– Compressing the ulnar nerve with your elbow on an armrest (chair or even car)
– Compression of the C8 nerve root as it exits the neck

Without going so far as getting an EMG, I figured I would make a change in my posture and arm position throughout the day. 

Here’s what I did to treat my own ulnar nerve irritation.

1. Switched hands when using my phone. 

This was a little tricky to do, but very effective. Bending the elbow past 90 degrees increased the tingling in my right pinky so I avoided holding my phone in my right hand.  

2. Stop resting my arm on hard surfaces.

When a nerve is irritated, any extra compression can make a ‘zing’ run down your hand. For me, I avoided resting my arm on the center console of my car. Sounds simple, but if it hurts, stop doing it. I

3. Sleep position: the hardest change. 

This was the likely reason for the tingling in my hand. I have been waking up with my right hand behind my head, which means my elbow is bent for hours multiple hours each night.   To avoid bending my elbow as much at night, I gently wrapped a towel around my elbow and positioned my arm at my side when sleeping. The towel prevented me from bending my arm as much, though it wasn’t the most comfortable change to make.

Neck stretches and Exercises for Cubital Tunnel Syndrome 

I realized that my upper trapezius was stiff and my pec muscles were tight. This didn’t help my situation so I added gentle ROM, stretches, and nerve glides to my daily routine to prevent the rounded shoulders and forward head posture we can all fall prey to displaying.

shoulder pain and neck stretches

How to Fix Numbness and Tingling in Pinky

  1. Address your posture and repetitive motion
  2. Consult your PT or Doctor for the right stretches or treatments
  3. Seriously avoid doing the activities that make the pain/tingling worse. Sometimes that’s enough to stop the pain. 

Of course, if you’ve experienced a traumatic injury or have a chronic issue, it’s important to check with your doctor or physical therapist before starting any routine. Though, it is safe to make small changes to your posture and positional adjustments to avoid unnecessary compression to the elbow and neck.

Tim Fraticelli DPT, MBA, CFP®

Tim Fraticelli is a Physical Therapist, Certified Financial Planner™ and founder of PTProgress.com. He loves to teach PTs and OTs ways to save time and money in and out of the clinic, especially when it comes to documentation or continuing education. Follow him on YouTube for weekly videos on ways to improve your financial health.