What causes ulnar nerve injury?

There are many causes of ulnar nerve injuries, including pressure, trauma and illness. In some cases, ulnar nerve injuries may arise without a known cause.

The most common cause of ulnar nerve injury is extended pressure on the ulnar nerve, known as ulnar nerve entrapment. As the ulnar nerve travels from the shoulder to the hand, it passes through two tunnels of tissue, the cubital tunnel behind the elbow and Guyon’s canal in the wrist. Both tunnels are common locations at which the ulnar nerve can be compressed and injured. The ulnar nerve may also be compressed at the neck or beneath the collarbone.

Entrapment of the ulnar nerve may result from swelling of soft tissue, cysts, or damage to the bones in the arms. Bone damage causing ulnar nerve injuries include arthritis, elbow dislocations, elbow and wrist fractures, and bone spurs. Repetitive motions of the arm and hand, extensive bending of the elbow, and long-term pressure on the palm of the hand may also cause ulnar nerve injuries.

Ulnar nerve injuries may also be the result of direct trauma to the nerve. Finally, any whole body illness that is known to cause nerve damage, such as diabetes or hypothyroidism, can affect the ulnar nerve.

What are the risk factors for ulnar nerve injury?

A number of factors increase the risk of developing ulnar nerve injury. Not all people with risk factors will get ulnar nerve injury. Risk factors for ulnar nerve injury include:

  • Activities in which your elbow or wrist is bent or twisted for prolonged periods
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Brachial plexus injury (injury to the bundle of nerves that transmit signals from the spine to the shoulder, arm and hand)
  • Diabetes (chronic disease that affects your body’s ability to use sugar for energy)
  • Elbow and wrist abnormalities
  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  • Nerve entrapment or compression, such as of the ulnar nerve in the arm
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (chronic autoimmune disease characterized by joint inflammation)
  • Sleeping positions that put pressure on your ulnar nerve

Reducing your risk of ulnar nerve injury

You may be able to lower your risk of ulnar nerve injury by:

  • Avoiding positions that put pressure on the elbow or inside of the arm
  • Keeping your elbow and wrist straight while sleeping
  • Limiting activities that require the elbow or wrist to be bent for a prolonged period

What is ulnar nerve injury?

An ulnar nerve injury is an injury that damages the ulnar nerve, one of the three main nerves in the forearm. The ulnar nerve runs from the shoulder to the hand and is responsible for carrying signals between the hand and the brain, enabling motion and feeling in the hand and forearm. An injury to the ulnar nerve can damage this communication and thus limit motion and feeling in the hand a... Read more about ulnar nerve injuryintroduction


What are the symptoms of ulnar nerve injury?

Symptoms of an ulnar nerve injury include pain, numbness, and loss of muscle strength and coordination in the arm and hand. Symptoms most commonly affect the little finger and the ring finger.

Common symptoms of ulnar nerve injury

You may experience ulnar nerve injury symptoms daily or just once in... Read more about ulnar nerve injurysymptoms


How is ulnar nerve injury treated?

Treatment for ulnar nerve injury begins with seeking medical care from your health care provider. To determine whether you have an ulnar nerve injury, your health care provider will likely perform a physical examination.

The goal of treatment for ulnar nerve injury is to manage or relieve symptoms and correct the underlying cause when possible. Treatment of ulnar nerve injury vari... Read more about ulnar nerve injurytreatments

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 11, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Brain and Nerves