Ulnar nerve decompression is a surgical procedure that is meant to cover the region around the elbow, especially where the ulnar nerve passes. This nerve is also responsible for the “funny bone” when your elbow is hit. The major cause of problems in this nerve is trauma. More often than not, such injuries cause permanent sensations of tingling that is somewhat similar to the “funny bone” or some numbness. Any nerve damage that follows this injury may lead to losses of muscles of the hand that are linked to the ulnar nerve. The damage is confirmed through diagnostic tests that involve an evaluation of electrical impulses. This proves that the neuropathy is only isolated to the ulnar nerve and not other areas of the elbow.
The surgery aims to explore the nerve region in the elbow. It works on removing any compressive forces that may be causing neuropathy and other dysfunctions in the nerve. There are several passages in the elbow that go through the connective tissues and muscles, which compress the ulnar nerves that pass through them. Some of the areas it passes through include the bony groove on the elbow, the triceps muscles in the upper arm, and the passage through the tissues on the forearm. These are also the most common areas where the nerve gets compressed.
The primary reason people have ulnar nerve surgery is because the damage to the nerve can affect a person’s ability to perform everyday tasks due to the pain. Damage to the nerve often causes the elbow to stay bent. Thus, many people can barely do their jobs comfortably. Frequent leaning on your elbow can contribute to compressions on the ulnar nerve and accidents where your elbow is hit increase the pain and damage to the nerve. If you frequently feel numbness and pain in your fingers and sometimes even some tingling sensation, you may need to have ulnar nerve surgery. You may also suffer a decrease in strength and the ability to grip and do tasks such as typing that require you to use your fingers. Treatment should be done as soon as possible to prevent further damage, which risks permanent injuries to the nerve.
Before the procedure is done, ensure that your doctor takes some blood tests to ensure that your blood clotting process is taking place correctly. You also need to know that you will be admitted to hospital for two hours before the procedure. In addition, you will be required not to eat or drink anything for 6 hours before the procedure. It is essential that you inform your surgeon of blood clotting problems, if you have ever had blood clots in your limbs or lungs, if you have high blood pressure issues, if you suffer from any allergies as a result of medication, if you are taking aspirin or other medicines that may thin your blood, and if you have any other health issues.
The surgery involves making a small incision or a low cut over the inside of the elbow. The surgeon will carefully divide the banded tissue that is responsible for the nerve constriction. The surgeon may need to reposition the nerve itself or remove a small amount of bone to create space for the nerve. The surgery will only take about 20- 40 minutes. You will not be put to sleep with the anesthesia that is used. Ensure that you discuss the entire procedure with your doctor to keep you psychologically prepared. The doctor should discuss with you on what will happen before, after, and during the process, and the pain you might have soon after. Ask as many questions as you find necessary so that the doctor can put your mind at ease.
This is a procedure that is suitable for people whose compressed nerves need to be physically moved to ease the compression. It allows the nerve to move fluidly when the elbow is bent.
Here, the surgeon may choose to increase the size of the cubital tunnel by cutting a small part of the ligaments. The cubital tunnel expansion may involve the removal of small bone pieces.
This is a procedure where the transposition process involves the removal of small portions of the muscle around the nerve, thus providing it with enough space to move around.
Full recovery will take up to 6 months. However, this will vary depending on the type of surgery, the severity of the injury treated, and the general health of the patient. After 4-6 weeks, an exercise plan will be recommended to enable a wide range of motion on the elbow joint. Muscle stretching and toning workouts will gradually be integrated to restore full function, reduce pain, and allow the patient to regain control.
Our orthopedic specialists, Dr. Hessing and Dr. Applonie, are here to help if you are in pain from an injury or dealing with a chronic condition.