Please be patient! It may take up to ONE minute to load all the Engines.
Problems? Please contact our support.
Ulnar nerve dysfunction
Alternative namesNeuropathy - ulnar nerve; Ulnar nerve palsy
DefinitionUlnar nerve dysfunction involves impaired movement or sensation in the wrist and hand caused by damage to the ulnar nerve.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Ulnar nerve dysfunction is a common form of peripheral neuropathy . It occurs when there is damage to the ulnar nerve, which travels down the arm and supplies flexion (bending movement) to the wrist and aids in movement and sensation of the wrist and hand.
The usual causes are direct trauma, prolonged external pressure on the nerve, or compression of the nerve caused by swelling or injury of nearby body structures. Entrapment involves pressure on the nerve where it passes through a narrow structure.
The damage involves destruction of the myelin sheath of the nerve, or destruction of part of the nerve cell (the axon). This damage slows or prevents conduction of impulses through the nerve.
Prolonged pressure on the base of the palm may also cause damage to part of the ulnar nerve, resulting in symptoms that are localized to the small hand muscles. In some cases, no detectable cause can be identified.
The mechanical factors may be complicated by ischemia (lack of oxygen related to decreased blood flow) in the area.
Pain or numbness may awaken the patient from sleep. The dysfunction is aggravated by activities such as tennis or golf.
Signs and testsNeuromuscular examination of the hand and wrist indicates ulnar nerve dysfunction. There may be weakness of wrist and hand flexion and difficulty moving the fingers. Severe cases may display wasting of the hand muscles or a characteristic "claw-like" deformity. A detailed history may be needed to determine the possible cause of the neuropathy.
Tests that reveal ulnar nerve dysfunction may include an EMG (a recording of electrical activity in muscles) and nerve conduction tests . Tests are guided by the suspected cause of the dysfunction, as suggested by the history, symptoms, and pattern of symptom development. They may include various blood tests, X-rays , scans, or other tests and procedures.
TreatmentTreatment is aimed at maximizing use of the hand and arm. The cause should be identified and treated as appropriate. In some cases, no treatment is required and recovery is spontaneous.
If there is no history of trauma to the area, conservative treatment is indicated by sudden onset, minimal sensation changes, and no difficulty in movement, and the absence of test results indicating degeneration of the nerve axon. In this case, the use of a supportive splint or elbow pads may be effective in preventing further injury.
Corticosteroids injected into the area may reduce swelling and pressure on the nerve.
Surgical intervention is indicated if the disorder is chronic or symptoms are worsening, if there is difficulty with movement, or if there is evidence that degeneration of the nerve axon is present. Surgical decompression may be recommended if the symptoms are from entrapment of the nerve. Surgical removal of lesions that press on the nerve may be of benefit.
CONTROL OF SYMPTOMS:
Over-the-counter analgesics or prescription pain medications may be needed to control pain ( neuralgia ). Other medications may reduce stabbing pains, including gabapentin, phenytoin, carbamazepine, or tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline. Whenever possible, use of medications should be avoided or minimized to reduce the risk of medication side effects.
Physical therapy exercises may be appropriate to maintain muscle strength.
Vocational counseling, occupational therapy, occupational changes, job retraining, or similar interventions may be recommended as appropriate.
Expectations (prognosis)If the cause of the dysfunction can be identified and successfully treated, there is a possibility of full recovery. The extent of disability varies from no disability to partial or complete loss of movement or sensation. Nerve pain may be uncomfortable and persist for a prolonged period of time. If pain is severe and continuing, see a pain specialist to be sure you have access to all options for pain treatment.
Calling your health care providerCall your health care provider if symptoms of ulnar nerve dysfunction occur. Early diagnosis and treatment increase the chance of controlling the symptoms.
PreventionPrevention varies depending on the cause. Avoid prolonged pressure on the elbow or palm. Casts , splints, and other appliances should always be examined for proper fit.
Update Date: 7/28/2002Elaine T. Kiriakopoulos, M.D., MSc, Department of Neurology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard University, Boston, MA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT