What’s the Difference Between Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?

What’s the Difference Between Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome and cubital tunnel syndrome share similar symptoms, but they are distinct conditions affecting different nerves in the elbow and wrist. 

If you’re experiencing pain and numbness in your fingers, you may assume you have carpal tunnel syndrome. But did you know another condition — called cubital tunnel syndrome — could also be the source of these symptoms?

Both carpal tunnel syndrome and cubital tunnel syndrome result from nerve compression; however, the damaged nerve for each is located in a different part of the body. In cubital tunnel syndrome, the ulnar nerve within the elbow becomes compressed due to injury or repeated bending of the elbow. The ulnar nerve sits inside the cubital tunnel, a passageway consisting of bone, muscle, and ligaments.

On the other hand, the compressed nerve causing carpal tunnel syndrome is the median nerve in the wrist. Repetitive motions of the hand and wrist (such as typing), fractures, and sprains are typically to blame. In addition, chronic conditions such as diabetes and arthritis are considered risk factors for carpal tunnel syndrome.

Despite some similarities — compressed nerves, hand pain, weakness when gripping objects — cubital tunnel syndrome and carpal tunnel syndrome are characterized by several differences. Knowing the symptoms for each can help you identify which condition you may have and determine the right treatment.

Carpal Tunnel vs. Cubital Tunnel

Both syndromes affect the hand and fingers, but the pain, tingling, and numbness of carpal tunnel syndrome is felt most acutely in the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and half of the ring finger. It’s also characterized by pain and burning in the hand and wrist that sometimes radiates up the forearm to the elbow.

Meanwhile, cubital tunnel syndrome is marked by numbness, pain, and tingling in the little and ring fingers as well as the inside of the hand. If you have cubital tunnel syndrome, you may notice these symptoms flare up at night when you bend your elbow for long periods as you sleep.

Diagnosing cubital tunnel syndrome or carpal tunnel syndrome begins with a physical examination. An orthopedist may also perform a nerve conduction study to assess nerve impulses in the wrist or elbow. Weak nerve activity in a certain area could indicate, for example, carpal tunnel syndrome.

Treating the Symptoms

Treatment options differ for each syndrome, although conservative therapies are recommended at first to reduce symptoms and restore function to the hand. Because cubital tunnel symptoms are more pronounced at night, you might be advised to wear a brace that straightens the elbow while you rest. Wrapping your arm in a towel to keep it straight can work as well.

If conservative treatments fail to relieve the nerve compression or muscle wasting is severe, surgery is another option. Two types of cubital tunnel surgery are currently performed: a medical epicondylectomy and an ulnar nerve transposition. In a medial epicondylectomy, the bony bump inside the elbow (the medial epicondyle) is removed. This allows the ulnar nerve to flex and straighten without pain. For an ulnar nerve transposition, the surgeon creates a new cubital tunnel and moves the ulnar nerve to the recreated tunnel.

Treating carpal tunnel syndrome non-surgically usually entails resting the hand, avoiding activities that aggravate symptoms, wearing a splint for several weeks, and applying ice to reduce swelling. Anti-inflammatories and steroids may also be prescribed. Once the pain subsides, you can practice exercises to stretch and strengthen the wrist and hand.

If these conservative treatments don’t alleviate carpal tunnel symptoms, surgery to relieve pressure on the median nerve by cutting the transverse carpal ligament may be necessary. This procedure is followed by physical therapy to strengthen the wrist.

What’s Causing Your Hand Pain?

If you’re experiencing hand and finger pain, you may be suffering from either cubital tunnel syndrome or carpal tunnel syndrome. The doctors at Comprehensive Orthopaedics can diagnose your condition and prescribe the proper treatment regimen. Whether through conservative therapy or surgery, our goal is to help our patients live pain-free. Contact us today for an appointment.

Health Tip: Managing Arthritis of the Hands

Health Tip: Managing Arthritis of the Hands

(HealthDay News) — Arthritis is a collection of joint diseases that affect more than 50 million adults and 300,000 children in the United States.

The joint pain, swelling or stiffness that may come with arthritis can be debilitating, says the Arthritis Foundation.

To manage arthritis of the hands, the foundation suggests:

  • Use cold packs to numb the joints and reduce swelling.
  • For significant inflammation, heat packs may provide relief.
  • Immobilize the hand with a splint or brace overnight.
  • Use a grip or similar device if you have trouble grasping or holding things.
Copyright ©2017 HealthDay. All rights reserved.
Living With Repetitive Strain Injury

Living With Repetitive Strain Injury

MONDAY, July 29, 2019 (HealthDay News) — Repetitive strain injury (RSI) can affect anyone who uses his or her hands a lot and repeats the same movements over and over again. It can develop whether you’re working at a computer all day or spending hours of leisure time immersed in handicrafts.

At first, symptoms — like pain and tingling — may go away once you stop the motions or the activity. But without treatment, including lifestyle changes, symptoms are likely to become so severe that you could become unable to continue with your work or hobby.

Recognizing RSI Symptoms

  • Pain or burning
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Weakness
  • Swelling
  • Soreness

Don’t hesitate to see your doctor if you experience one or more of these symptoms — don’t assume that a few days off is enough to stop RSI. If the source of pain isn’t addressed, symptoms can become irreversible.

Part of the solution is to take regular breaks from problematic but necessary activities throughout the day. Get up and move around for at least five minutes every half-hour, and stretch your arms, wrists and fingers.

Practice good posture. When sitting, your head and back should form a straight line from ears to hips. When at the computer, don’t let your wrists bend to one side. Keep them in line with your forearms, fingers slightly curved over your keyboard. Don’t self-treat by wearing a splint or using a wrist rest — both can interfere with natural movement and blood circulation.

More Typing Tips to Try

  • Use all fingers to type, not just one
  • Use keyboard shortcuts
  • Take advantage of voice recognition software

Also, consider investigating the Alexander Technique, an approach to movement aimed at better posture and body mechanics helpful for RSI.

More information

You can learn more about the Alexander Technique online.

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Signs of Rheumatoid Arthritis Can Show Up Long Before Diagnosis

Signs of Rheumatoid Arthritis Can Show Up Long Before Diagnosis

FRIDAY, May 10, 2019 (HealthDay News) — Difficulties with daily activities such as dressing, walking and eating can be seen in rheumatoid arthritis patients a year or two before they’re diagnosed, a new study shows.

“This is a new finding, and a finding that is quite intriguing,” said lead author Dr. Elena Myasoedova, a rheumatologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

“It may reflect an accumulation of symptoms between the time of first onset and the time required for providers to actually diagnose patients,” she said in a Mayo news release.

The study also found that chronic increased levels of difficulty with daily activities (functional disability) continued even after patients were diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and began treatment.

That may be due to a number of factors, including increasing physical and mental pain, use of treatments such as glucocorticoids and antidepressants, and anticipation of relief from symptoms, she added.

For the study, the researchers looked at 586 rheumatoid arthritis patients and 531 people without the disease in the Rochester Epidemiology Project database of medical records.

The rate of functional disability was more than two times higher among rheumatoid arthritis patients than in those without rheumatoid arthritis. In most age groups, rheumatoid arthritis patients had a 15% or higher rate of functional disability than those without the disease.

The findings show the importance of early treatment for rheumatoid arthritis patients, according to Myasoedova.

“Alerting your health care provider to difficulties in daily living can assure that patients receive the help they need,” she said.

About 1.5 million Americans have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that most often affects the joints but can also impact other parts of the body. Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most common chronic conditions associated with functional disability in the United States, and has a significant impact on well-being and quality of life.

Symptoms can include joint pain or swelling, but 40% of patients have symptoms that don’t involve the joints, such as fatigue, fever and loss of appetite.

The study will be published in June in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on rheumatoid arthritis.

SOURCE: Mayo Clinic, news release, May 1, 2019Copyright ©2017 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Health Tip: Joint Popping and Cracking

Health Tip: Joint Popping and Cracking

(HealthDay News) — Most people have popping and cracking of their joints, especially as they age.

Though the reasons behind these sounds are unclear, doctors think they may be caused by ligaments stretching and releasing, or the compression of nitrogen bubbles.

Usually, the phenomenon doesn’t need treatment. However, if these sounds are accompanied by swelling and pain, seeing a doctor is recommended, says Johns Hopkins Medicine.

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Is Your Hand Pain Arthritis, Carpal Tunnel or Something Else?

Is Your Hand Pain Arthritis, Carpal Tunnel or Something Else?

FRIDAY, March 1, 2019 (HealthDay News) — You use your hands nearly every minute of the day, so any time they hurt it’s important to find out why.

Certain conditions can affect people who do the same hand movements for hours every day. Repetitive strain injury can cause pain in muscles, nerves and tendons. Carpal tunnel syndrome swelling compresses a key nerve. The lesser known de Quervain’s tenosynovitis typically affects tendons on the inner sides of the wrist.

An autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis often causes joint pain. Without treatment, it can lead to deformities in your hands. The wrist and finger joints are common targets of osteoarthritis, which occurs over time from normal wear-and-tear.

Treatment might start with an over-the-counter or prescription NSAID to temporarily relieve pain, but their long-term use has been linked to side effects such as liver or kidney damage and elevated heart attack risk.

Stronger medications may be needed to stop a degenerative disease like rheumatoid arthritis. Corticosteroid injections are an occasional option to reduce inflammation. Heat can ease stiffness while a cold pack can relieve soreness. If you have a chronic condition, an occupational therapist can teach you how to limit stress on joints when using your hands. During a flare, he or she might suggest a splint to stabilize your hand.

Sometimes surgery is needed. Dupuytren’s contracture, a thickening under the skin on the palm of the hand, can develop into firm lumps that cause fingers to bend inward. Unless lumps are removed early, it may be impossible to straighten fingers later on. If other options don’t help carpal tunnel and de Quervain’s, surgery might be the answer.

Many conditions worsen without appropriate treatment, so don’t delay in seeing your doctor or a hand specialist.

More information

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has more on painful hand conditions.

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