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  • Writer's pictureDr. Terrell Joseph

Is Your Elbow Pain a Nerve Issue?

Nerves in the upper extremities (shoulders, elbows, wrists, and hands) transmit messages from the nervous system. These nerves send inputs for vibrations, cold, heat, and sharpness. When those nerves are damaged or pinched, it can disrupt your day-to-day movements.

How to Tell If You Have a Pinched Elbow Nerve

There are three main nerves that travel from your neck down to your hand. When those nerves become pinched or irritated, you may experience nerve entrapment syndrome.

Symptoms of a pinched nerve in the elbow include:

  • Elbow pain

  • Numbness or tingling in the hand, wrist, or arm

  • Weakness and stiffness in the arm, wrist, or hand

The ulnar nerve is the main nerve that can become compressed at or around the elbow. Ulnar nerve entrapment is more commonly known as cubital tunnel syndrome. People with cubital tunnel syndrome often report the following:

  • Tingling and numbness in the ring and little finger

  • Weakness when gripping

  • Difficulting doing tasks that require finger coordinating (such as typing)

  • Tenderness around your elbow

Symptoms of ulnar nerve entrapment can come and go. If left untreated these symptoms will become chronic and cause permanent damage.

Two other elbow nerves that can become pinched or compressed include:

  1. Median Nerve: The median nerve passes beneath the muscles in the forearm in the elbow. When the median nerve is pinched (also known as pronator teres syndrome), the forearm will start to ache, with pain spreading down the arm to the wrist, hand, and (eventually) thumb area.

  2. Radial Nerve: A branch of the radial nerve passes along the inside of the elbow. When this elbow nerve is compressed, it typically causes weakness in the fingers and wrist. This is called posterior interosseous nerve syndrome and can often be misdiagnosed as tennis elbow.

Like ulnar nerve entrapment, these conditions can lead to serious complications if left untreated.

Do You Need Surgery for Nerve Entrapment?

After a proper diagnosis of your elbow nerve pain, Dr. Joseph and his team at Vail-Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery will recommend a treatment plan that’s best for your unique condition and lifestyle.

Fortunately, the majority of pinched elbow nerve conditions can be treated nonsurgically. Common conservative treatment methods include:

  • RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation)

  • At-home stretching exercises

  • Physical therapy

  • Anti-inflammatory medicines

  • Splinting, bracing, or an elbow pad

If nonsurgical treatment has no impact after a few weeks or if there is obvious muscle damage in the area, Dr. Joseph may recommend surgery.

Surgery for a pinched elbow nerve involves removing pressure from the nerve. In rare cases, the nerve will be moved during the operation. Recovery for elbow nerve surgery can include:

  • Splinting

  • Physical therapy

  • Lifestyle changes

Rebuilding strength in the forearm and fingers after elbow nerve entrapment surgery can take weeks to a few months. It’s important to avoid any activities that could irritate or damage the nerve.

Expert Elbow Nerve Pain Treatment in Colorado

If you are experiencing elbow, forearm, or wrist pain that you think is due to a pinched nerve, contact Dr. Joseph today! He and his team will expertly diagnose your symptoms and recommend a treatment plan that gets you back to doing the activities you love.

Call 970-476-7220 to make an appointment at any of his three conveniently located clinics in Eagle and Summit County. You can also request a consultation via our online appointment form!

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