Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Exercise to Relieve Pain

 by Matt Weik, BS, CSCS, CPT, CSN

If you’re grappling with cubital tunnel syndrome, you understand the pain and frustration it brings. It stems from pressure on the ulnar nerve, stretching from your neck to your hand. Symptoms encompass arm and hand pain, tingling, and numbness.

The good news? Treatment and exercises have the ability to help reduce symptoms in 50% to 88% of cases. In this article, we are going to learn about some of the best practices to relieve the pain.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to treat or diagnose any condition. It is recommended that you speak with your doctor before starting an exercise program or if you feel you suffer from cubital tunnel syndrome.

What is Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?

Have you ever experienced that pins-and-needles sensation when your hand or foot falls asleep? Now, imagine if your pinky and ring finger frequently tingle while you’re driving or holding your phone — welcome to the potential risk of cubital tunnel syndrome.

This condition, also known as ulnar nerve entrapment, stems from injuries to the ulnar nerve. The injury starts at the neck, travels down the arm, and concludes its journey at the pinky and ring fingers. It is responsible for sensation in the inner forearm, pinky, and half of the ring finger. It also controls some hand and forearm muscle movement, which is crucial for gripping.

As highlighted by the Postgraduate Medical Journal, cubital tunnel syndrome takes the spotlight as the second most prevalent peripheral nerve entrapment syndrome, trailing closely behind carpal tunnel issues. This condition doesn’t shy away from making its presence known, inducing a range of symptoms in the arm and hand. Pain, numbness, and muscle weakness become unwelcome companions, particularly in the places controlled by the ulnar nerve, which is the ring and pinky fingers.

What Causes Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?

Cubital tunnel syndrome can be triggered by various factors, such as:

  • Extended leaning on the elbow
  • Presence of bone spurs
  • Fluid retention during pregnancy
  • Prolonged bending of the elbow over 90 degrees
  • Diabetes
  • Uncommon arthritis-induced joint damage in the elbow
  • History of elbow fractures or dislocations

Diagnosis includes a physical exam, nerve conduction study, electromyogram, and potential x-rays to identify nerve compression. These factors are essential for tackling the challenges caused by cubital tunnel syndrome.

Exercises for Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Inflammation or adhesions along the ulnar nerve path can restrict its mobility, essentially causing it to become immobilized. These exercises play a crucial role in stretching the ulnar nerve and promoting movement within the cubital tunnel.

1.    Wrist extension

Ease the strain on muscles and tendons aggravating cubital tunnel syndrome with this simple stretch:

  • Sit or stand tall, extending your arm in front of you with the palm facing down.
  • Gently use your opposite hand to bend your wrist backward until you sense a stretch in your forearm muscles.
  • Maintain the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat this sequence three times.

2.    Head tilt

To reduce tension and promote flexibility, try the head tilt exercise:

  • Stand or sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight.
  • Slowly tilt your head to any one side, bringing your ear toward your shoulder until you feel a gentle stretch.
  • Hold the position for 15-30 seconds, feeling the stretch along the side of your neck.
  • Return to the beginning position and repeat on the opposite side.
  • Perform this stretch 2-3 times on each side to help ease tension and enhance neck mobility.

3.    Wrist flexion

The wrist flexion exercise reduces tension in the forearm muscles and tendons, potentially easing cubital tunnel syndrome symptoms:

  • Start by sitting or standing comfortably with your arm stretched in front of you and your palm facing down.
  • Use your opposite hand to slowly press your fingers and wrist downward, creating a stretch in the forearm.
  • Hold the position for 15-30 seconds, feeling the stretch along the top of your forearm.
  • Repeat the exercise 2-3 times, incorporating it into your routine for relief from cubital tunnel syndrome discomfort.

4.    Arm foam roll massage

Give your arms a soothing touch with the arm foam roll massage:

  • Sit or stand comfortably with a foam roller within reach.
  • Place the foam roller under your forearm, applying gentle pressure.
  • Slowly roll the foam along the length of your forearm, from the elbow to the wrist.
  • Pause and gently rock side to side on areas that feel tense.
  • Perform the same process on the other arm.
  • Aim for 1-2 minutes on each arm, adjusting pressure based on comfort.

5.    A-OK

The recent popular A-OK exercise trend involves forming an “A-OK” symbol with your hand and repetitively flexing and extending the fingers. This simple yet effective movement has gained traction for its potential to promote finger flexibility and relieve tension.

6.    Pronation stretch

Improve flexibility and relieve tension with the pronation stretch:

  • Sit or stand comfortably.
  • Extend your arm in front, palm facing down.
  • Using your opposite hand, apply a slight upward pressure to rotate your palm upwards.
  • Experience a gentle stretch in your forearm and wrist.
  • Maintain the position for 15-30 seconds, then switch arms.
  • Repeat as needed to promote flexibility and reduce tension.