Cubital Tunnel vs. Carpal Tunnel: Which Do I Have?

Carpal tunnel syndrome gets all the press when it comes to hand pain and dysfunction, but another common syndrome, called cubital tunnel, can be just as debilitating and frustrating. The symptoms of both involve numbness, tingling, and hand pain.

Regardless of which syndrome you think you may have, our team at Maryland Orthopedic Specialists can help. Call our Bethesda or Germantown, Maryland practice to make an appointment.

About carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel occurs when the median nerve that runs from your forearm into your wrist and hand becomes compressed. This nerve passes through a pathway, called the carpal tunnel. When the tunnel is inflamed, irritated, or injured, you experience the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.

About cubital tunnel syndrome

Cubital tunnel syndrome is also caused by compression of a nerve in your arm, specifically the ulnar nerve at the elbow. This nerve passes through a tunnel of muscle, ligament, and bone called the cubital tunnel. When this tunnel is inflamed or injured, you experience the symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome.

Similar symptoms

Both conditions make your hand and wrist tingle or go numb. You may have pain in your hand when you try to use it. A distinction, though, is in where you feel the pain. While carpal tunnel syndrome affects the thumb, index, and long fingers, cubital tunnel syndrome affects the small and ring fingers.

Cubital tunnel syndrome may also cause pain similar to when you hit your funny bone.

Both carpal tunnel syndrome and cubital tunnel syndrome can make everyday tasks such as buttoning a shirt or writing difficult. The long-term effects of both syndromes could be permanent nerve damage and dysfunction.

Slightly different causes

Carpal tunnel syndrome may result from overuse at the wrist — such as constant typing — a wrist fracture, or swelling from rheumatoid arthritis. Cubital tunnel syndrome also may occur due to overuse, but of the elbow. If you pull, reach, or lift a lot, lean on your elbows often, or experience an injury at the elbow joint, you may end up with cubital tunnel issues. 

Arthritis and bone spurs could cause inflammation at both the wrist and elbow joint.

In some cases, we may not be able to determine the reason you developed carpal tunnel or cubital tunnel syndrome.

Treatments for both conditions

Both carpal tunnel syndrome and cubital tunnel syndrome are treated similarly. Resting the elbow or wrist is a critical part of treatment; you simply must stop activities that aggravate the pain and dysfunction.

For carpal tunnel syndrome, our doctors at Maryland Orthopedic Specialists may offer a wrist brace or splint. For cubital tunnel, though, you may receive an elbow brace to wear at night.

Anti-inflammatory medications and steroid injections ease the pain and numbness of each syndrome. In severe cases, both syndromes may require surgery to make the affected tunnel larger so the compressed nerve has more room to function.

If you have pain and numbness in your hand, come to Maryland Orthopedic Specialists for a definitive diagnosis. Call for an appointment or book online

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