Elbow Pain While Typing? Say Hello to Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Elbow Pain While Typing? Say Hello to Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Most people have heard of carpal tunnel syndrome, but do you know about it’s lesser-known cousin, cubital tunnel syndrome? Find out how to prevent and treat the common condition.

If you spend your days hunched over a computer banging on a keyboard, you’re probably already well aware of the potential to suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome — an orthopedic condition that causes pain in the wrist and hand. But did you know there might be another common disorder you’re at risk of? With more people spending their days trapped behind computer screens than ever before, another similar, less-known disorder is starting to take the spotlight: Cubital tunnel syndrome.

Just like carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome is a nerve compression disorder, meaning it occurs when a nerve in your body is squeezed or compacted. In the case of cubital tunnel syndrome, that nerve is the ulnar nerve, which runs through the cubital tunnel — a pathway of muscle, ligament, and bone along the inside of the elbow that stretches from your neck to your fingers.

Even if you haven’t heard of the ulnar nerve, you’ve certainly felt it before. Have you ever hit your elbow and felt a sensation that you laughingly called your “funny bone”? In fact, that sensation wasn’t caused by hitting a bone at all. Instead, it was an inflammation of the ulnar nerve, which can cause severe elbow pain (something anyone who has experienced cubital tunnel syndrome is all too familiar with).

What Causes Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?

There are a number of different possible causes for cubital tunnel syndrome, but nowadays it’s most often attributed to our reliance on technology, including computers and cell phones. Prolonged bending of the elbow — such as when you type on your phone or keyboard or when you bend your elbow to speak into your phone — can eventually inflame the ulnar nerve. Cubital tunnel syndrome can also occur if you get a general elbow injury, suffer from arthritis, or sleep with your elbow at a pronounced angle.

No matter the cause, as the ulnar nerve compresses over time, that compression can lead to irritation and inflammation. You may experience numbness and tingling in the hand in general or specifically the ring or little finger. Hand pain and an aching sensation in the elbow are other common symptoms of the condition. In advanced cases, you may also experience muscle weakness in the arm and hand.

Preventing Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

The best treatment for any orthopedic condition is always prevention. A great place to start is by checking the ergonomic setup of your desk. If your chair is low compared to the desk height, your elbows may be bent at a sharp 90-degree angle (or even less). Arrange your desk and chair so you bend your elbows at more than 90 degrees. The higher your chair is, the easier this will be. It’s also a good idea to move your keyboard closer to you so your elbows don’t rest on the desk as you type. If you spend a lot of time talking on the phone for your job, try a headset instead of a handheld device to avoid bending your help for long periods of time — something that should be avoided under any circumstances.

In a similar vein, you should particularly avoid resting your elbow on hard surfaces whenever possible. Even if you’re just resting on an armrest, try placing a pad under your elbow to reduce the possibility of inflammation.

If you do experience pain in your elbow, try to identify when the pain occurs and avoid that activity as much as possible. Stop what you’re doing and give yourself some time to rest to let the pain subside. In general, keep your arms straight as much as possible, and stretch your upper body, wrists, and fingers daily to prevent nerve compression and to keep your muscles limber.

Treating Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Cubital tunnel syndrome treatment begins with diagnosis. To diagnose the condition, your orthopedist will usually conduct a series of tests. These may include a nerve conduction test to determine if there is any nerve compression or an electromyogram (EMG) that measures muscle strength in the forearm. In some cases, they may also take an X-ray to see if there are any bone spurs in the elbow or if arthritis is present.

Once the condition is diagnosed, your orthopedist can begin looking into treatment options. Surgery is rarely recommended as a treatment for cubital tunnel syndrome. It is only ever used in severe cases where a person’s arm weakens to the point where they can no longer grip things. Instead, orthopedists typically stick to non-surgical treatment methods that can reduce your pain over several weeks of treatment and allow you to return to your normal activities. These therapies range from a regimen of nonsteroidal anti inflammatories (ibuprofen or naproxen) to a splint or foam brace to limit elbow movement at night.

Physical therapy is another common method of treatment when it comes to cubital tunnel syndrome. While your physical therapist will work with you to determine what exercises best suit your condition, one common approach is using nerve gliding exercises that promote normal nerve movement in concert with the joint.

Time to Visit Your Orthopedist

Without treatment, cubital tunnel syndrome will worsen. Persistent pain in your elbow (or wrist) should be examined by an orthopedic specialist to alleviate your discomfort.

Why Does My Back Spasm?

Why Does My Back Spasm?

Does your back stiffen up and ache frequently? It could be due to back spasms. Learn what they are and how to treat them.

Back pain is one of the most common orthopedic complaints among adults in the U.S. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that around a quarter of adults reported lower back pain in the past three months alone. Much of that discomfort is likely caused by back spasms.

Back spasms are involuntary contractions of the back muscles. The spasms can feel like anything from a minor ache to a sudden, sharp pain or a tightening of the muscles so severe it prevents movement. Your back muscles may spasm after an acute strain, such as lifting a heavy object, or after twisting your back in an unusual way — as you might while playing a sport like golf or football. Certain underlying orthopedic conditions including arthritis, spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal), or a herniated disc can also cause back spasms.

Fortunately, muscle spasms rarely need to be treated with surgery. Instead, the discomfort usually resolves on its own with the help of some conservative treatments.

How to Treat Back Spasms

If you experience a back spasm, it’s best to see a doctor. The doctor will begin by asking you when the pain began to determine what may have caused it. If the pain started after you moved some heavy objects, for example, your doctor will likely diagnose the spasm as resulting from a muscle injury. Knowing what caused the spasm can help you prevent others from happening in the future. If your doctor deems it necessary, they may also order imaging tests to see if there are any broken bones or arthritis that might have contributed to the muscle spasm.

Once your doctor determines what caused the spasm, they can suggest some at-home treatments suited to your condition. Treatment typically relies on reducing the pain associated with the back spasm and getting the muscles to relax. Common treatments include:

  • Rest. Working out or attempting to carry out your normal activities following a back spasm will only strain your back muscles further. Take a day off from work and give your back some time to recover. If you must exercise, take a short walk. Walking speeds blood flow to the back, which promotes healing. Make sure that when you do walk, you stroll along an even path. Avoid uphill or downhill tracks that may aggravate your back pain.
  • Hot & Cold Therapy. An alternating program of hot and cold therapy can alleviate your back pain and unlock tense muscles. To reduce inflammation, apply a cold compress to the back. To loosen tight muscles, apply heat, which will rush healing blood to the area. To avoid damaging your skin, make sure never to leave the hot or cold pads on for more than 15 minutes at a time.
  • Medications. Back pain can be treated with over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin. Acetaminophen is not included in this list because while it can reduce pain, it won’t address inflammation. If your pain is severe, your doctor may prescribe muscle relaxants — but relaxants should only be used for a short period of time and you should be aware that they can cause side effects such as dizziness. If you need a more intensive intervention, another option is a trigger point injection into the knot of tight muscles. No matter which option you pursue, always consult with your doctor before taking any medication (including an over-the-counter drug) to ensure it doesn’t interfere with other medications you may be taking.
  • Physical Therapy. You may not realize it, but weak abdominal muscles can contribute to back spasms. A physical therapist can model exercises to strengthen the back and abdominal muscles and prevent future spasms — but remember: you should only attempt these exercises yourself when the back spasms have passed and the muscles can endure strenuous activity. In addition to guided physical therapy, pay attention to your posture throughout the day. When you sleep, make sure your upper body is at a slight incline with a pillow propping up your knees. When you’re relaxing during the day, try to sit in a recliner with your body at a slight incline with your knees bent and your legs supported. If you’re working at your desk, avoid slouching as much as possible.
  • Some Final Tips: To maintain the health and stability of your back, avoid staying in one position for too long. Back spasms are frequently the result of spending too much time in an awkward position. Also, remember to stretch and warm up your muscles before exercising. Cold muscles can stiffen from sudden movement and injure more easily. Make sure you also stretch after your workout to prevent your muscles from tightening. And be careful to always stay hydrated, whether you’re exercising or not. Your muscles need water to stay limber and keep from spasming.

Why Suffer From Back Pain?

If you experience back spasms or other back pain, there’s no reason for you to keep suffering. The physicians at Comprehensive Orthopaedics have helped many patients overcome persistent back pain. We’ll create a tailored treatment plan that will reduce your discomfort and help you feel your best, so you can enjoy your daily activities once again. Contact us today for a consultation.

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