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Physiotherapy for Ulnar Nerve Neuropathy

The ulnar nerve is a major nerve in the upper limb that controls the movement and feeling in your forearm, hand and your two smallest fingers. Regular actions such as gripping objects and writing are possible due to this nerve. Also, it helps transmit sensory information to the brain such as touch, temperature and pain.

The ulnar nerve begins at the lower part of the neck and passes under the shoulder at the armpit and travels all the way down the inside of the arm, through the palm and into the 4th and 5th fingers. Interestingly, it doesn’t actually perform a function until it enters the forearm. Along with the above, it also controls muscles around the wrist and contributes to thumb movement.

It sits very close to the surface and around the elbow area is very sensitive to touch – when you hit your ‘funny bone’ you’re not actually hitting a bone at all. The odd feeling you get is the ulnar nerve getting bumped against the humerus.

What Causes Ulnar Neuropathy?

The term neuropathy describes an injury or damage to a nerve in the body. There are a range of possible causes of nerve damage including a traumatic incident, an infection, a medical condition or an inflammatory response.

The severity of nerve injury will vary from mild up to severe with the most serious usually as a result of a specific trauma event. Serious damage is likely to require medical treatment and possibly surgery.

Entrapment of the ulnar nerve is the nerve being ‘pinched’ by surrounding structures like bone, muscle or tendon. While the nerve can be compressed at any point along its pathway it often occurs at the elbow and this injury is called cubital tunnel syndrome.

The Symptoms of an Ulnar Nerve Injury

In the case of a pinched ulnar nerve the symptoms are most commonly gradual and present in the wrist and little fingers. The symptoms may become noticeable with a change of activity such as an increased use of the hand and wrist or beginning a sport using the upper limb. A history of neck pain can also contribute.

The most common symptoms that people begin to feel in the wrist and hand are:

  • Numbness
  • Pins and needles
  • A burning or sharp feeling
  • Other forms of pain
  • Increased sensitivity
  • Weakness in the area or a loss of control in the fingers and wrist
  • In severe cases muscle atrophy may occur

Discomfort is likely to be aggravated by physical activities that stretch or strain the neural tissue. Nerves are really sensitive to too much stretching and the symptoms can become worse if certain activities don’t cease or are at least modified for a time.

People who are at a higher risk of an ulnar nerve injury include those with a history of dislocation or fracture of the elbow, repetitive flexion of the elbow during sports or a job activity, prolonged periods of pressure at the elbow and sometimes age-related degeneration.

Physiotherapy Treatment for Ulnar Neuropathy

For nerve injuries caused by inflammation or compression treatment by a physiotherapist can often be incredibly beneficial. In most cases there won’t be any long-term damage from an ulnar nerve injury but like all injuries the level of severity can affect recovery. Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy focuses on dealing with the cause of your discomfort, as well as working on relieving your symptoms.

A lot of nerve injuries are caused by a minor irritation that is relatively easy to resolve in a short amount of time – possibly even just days. Minor and moderate ulnar nerve neuropathies generally only need conservative treatment such as some rest or modification to the activities that irritate the symptoms, anti-inflammatory medication or mild pain medication.

A physiotherapist can recommend nerve specific mobility exercises, manual therapy techniques and some general exercises to relieve pain and improve movement. Sometimes a brace or splint may be used if deemed necessary. A remedial massage therapist may also be recommended to assist with treatment and can help prevent this condition from happening in the future.

Severe nerve injuries may need months to improve and repair and your physio will refer you to a specialist for the necessary treatment. Regardless of the cause or severity of your nerve issues, it is crucial to seek advice as soon as possible to minimise the chance of symptoms becoming worse and because early treatment often results in an easier and quicker recovery.

If you are experiencing any pain, loss of control at the wrist or elbow or a change in sensation then don’t hesitate to contact Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy. They are dedicated to having you moving pain free as soon as possible so call to chat to one of their highly qualified and experienced physios or book an appointment online.

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