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Cubital Tunnel Syndrome vs Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: What’s the Difference?

Home News & Videos JAG Physical Therapy Blog Cubital Tunnel Syndrome vs Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: What’s the Difference?

Both cubital tunnel syndrome and carpal tunnel syndrome are nerve compression disorders — in other words, a nerve is blocked or squeezed due to internal or external contact. This results in pain and a loss of mobility and function.

These syndromes relate specifically to the upper limbs of the body, mainly the elbow, wrist, hands, and fingers. But what's the difference between cubital tunnel and carpal tunnel syndrome? Are the causes and symptoms similar? Keep reading to learn more.

What Causes Cubital Tunnel Syndrome and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Both cubital and carpal tunnel syndrome may be caused by similar issues, with some definitive differences.

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Causes

Cubital tunnel syndrome is caused by compression or damage to the ulnar nerve at your elbow.

This may be caused by anatomical issues. For instance, tissues around the nerve may thicken or expand over time, or the nerve may move into an awkward position at the joint.

It may also be caused by over-flexing the elbow or by keeping the elbow in a bent position for an excessive amount of time. Bumping your elbow or pressing it against a surface may also cause cubital tunnel syndrome.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Causes

Cubital tunnel syndrome is caused by compression or damage to the median nerve at the wrist.

This may be caused in the same way as cubital tunnel syndrome, but at the wrist rather than the elbow. For example, anatomical issues, over-flexing, or impact on the joint may cause this issue.

Other medical conditions can also play a role. Heart defects or pregnancy can cause fluid build-up in the joint, resulting in carpal tunnel syndrome.

 

What Are the Symptoms of Cubital Tunnel Syndrome and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

The symptoms of cubital and carpal tunnel syndrome may be similar to one another. For instance, you may experience:

  • Reduced range of motion in the hand and fingers
  • Numbness in the hand and fingers
  • Tingling sensations around the area
  • Pain and discomfort
  • Weakness and loss of function, such as an inability to lift or hold objects
  • Long-lasting, or even permanent, nerve damage in extreme cases

However, there are a few key differences to keep in mind:

  • Areas affected
    • Cubital tunnel syndrome symptoms largely affect the small and ring fingers of the hand.
    • Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms largely impact the thumb, index, and middle fingers.
  • Pain and discomfort
    • Cubital tunnel syndrome is likely to result in pain in the elbow, as well as in the hand and fingers.
    • Carpal tunnel syndrome is likely to result in pain in the wrist, as well as in the hand and fingers.

How Are Cubital Tunnel Syndrome and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Diagnosed and Treated?

Fortunately, both cubital and carpal tunnel syndrome can be treated effectively. Once the condition is diagnosed, conservative treatments that do not involve surgery can be applied in most cases. In more extreme cases, a surgical operation may be required, but the patient can still look forward to a complete recovery.

Diagnosis

  • Physical Examination: The first method of diagnosis is simply a professional examination. A trained therapist takes a look at the affected limb and checks for possible symptoms.
  • Electromyography: Electromyography can provide further insight. This process involves stimulating the nerves in the wrist or elbow and measuring the response.
  • Nerve Conduction Studies: Nerve conduction studies are similar to electromyography, but with inherent differences. These studies measure the speed at which electrical signals travel along the nerves.
  • Imaging Tests: Imaging tests give professionals a closer look at what is going on inside the affected area.

Treatment

  • Splinting: Splinting is effectively immobilization — keeping the joint in a fixed position to prevent pain and further damage.
  • Nerve Gliding Exercises: Nerve gliding exercises allow the nerves to move naturally within the joint when it is in motion. These exercises can be used to assess the progress of rehabilitation.
  • Steroid Injections: Steroid injections decrease pain and discomfort as well as swelling, allowing the nerve to heal.
  • Release Surgery: If the nerve is stuck in a damaging or painful position, surgery may be required to release it.
  • Post-Operative Rehabilitation: Rehabilitative exercises can help with full recovery following surgery.

Manage Nerve Compression Syndromes with JAG Physical Therapy

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of carpal or cubital tunnel syndrome or another nerve compression issue, expert assessment and treatment are vital. Timely diagnosis can help you avoid long-term damage to nerves, which can be severely debilitating.

Reach out to the JAG PT team today, and get personalized assessment, pain relief strategies, and functional rehabilitation from our skilled professionals.