The ”funny bone” that packs a stinging punch after just a simple bump is actually a nerve and not a bone at all. Spanning from the upper arm alongside the inner part of your elbow, the ulnar nerve lets your brain know about feelings in your fourth and fifth fingers. Although “funny bone” sensations can be described as temporary discomfort, chronic pressure or stretching of the nerve can affect blood supply to the ulnar nerve, causing numbness or tingling in the fingers, forearm or hand. This is known as cubital tunnel syndrome.
When symptoms are very severe or not getting better, surgery may be an option to help relieve the pressure. UF Health’s own Dr. Harvey Chim, associate professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery in the UF College of Medicine, specializes in this area. He recently had a study on the subject published in the medical journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery as the editor’s pick for the month.
The study conducted by five physicians from Gainesville to Miami, including Dr. Chim, compared two surgical procedures done to treat cubital tunnel syndrome – open release surgery and endoscopic, surgery – in 655 patients.
In open surgery, the ulnar nerve is released through an 8- to 10-centimeter incision. The study found that the size and shape of the incision may vary and that recovery time can take anywhere from a few weeks to a several months with this procedure. Alternatively, results indicated that endoscopic surgery uses a smaller incision, so it is less invasive. This type of procedure also showed a reduction in nerve handling as well as expedited recovery time for patients and decreased scar discomfort.
“The endoscopic approach is great for patient care because it allows for the decompression of the ulnar nerve through a 2-centimeter incision, which allows patients to recover faster after surgery,” said Chim.
If faced with these symptoms, you should begin treatment as early as possible, under a doctor’s direction. Cubital tunnel syndrome can be treated through a variety of methods ranging from non-surgical treatments like splinting, over-the-counter medications, or yoga, to surgical methods such as open release and endoscopic surgery. Dr. Chim is the only physician in North Florida who performs endoscopic cubital tunnel release.
For more information, visit UFHealth.org/plastics or call 352.265.8402 to schedule a consultation.