Ulnar Nerve Release

What is ulnar nerve release?

Ulnar nerve release is a surgical treatment for ulnar nerve compression.

The ulnar nerve is one of the major nerves that supplies the muscles of the hand. It also provides feeling for the little and ring fingers. If you’ve ever hit your funny bone and felt a tingling sensation down to your fingers, that’s your ulnar nerve.

The ulnar nerve runs the full length of the arm, passing around the inside of the elbow through the cubital tunnel, which is formed by the ulnar bone, muscles and tendons. If your nerve becomes compressed (otherwise known as entrapped or pinched), you will usually feel numbness and tingling in the little finger and ring finger.

Compression at the cubital tunnel may be due to bursitis (inflammation of the fluid-filled sac in the joint) or putting pressure on the elbow joint by leaning on your elbows for a long time or even sleeping with your elbows bent. It may also be due to injury such as fracture, dislocation or elbow arthritis.

How does ulnar nerve release surgery work?

Ulnar nerve release may be performed under general anaesthetic or regional anaesthetic or a combination of both.

After your elbow is cleaned and prepared for surgery, your surgeon makes a cut at the back of the inner side of your elbow. Tissues that are compressing the nerve are removed, or in some cases, the nerve itself is moved. In either case, the aim is to release pressure on the nerve. The incisions are then closed and a wound dressing placed.

What is involved and what to expect after ulnar nerve release?

Most people are able to go home on the same day as the surgery.

Before you go home, your therapist will fit you with a sling and show you some exercises that help keep your elbow flexible and prevent stiffness while healing. Ongoing physiotherapy can help speed up recovery and improve outcomes.

By 6 weeks after surgery, you should be back to normal day to day activities. But you might find that your symptoms continue to improve for up to 12 months.