Having Numbness and Tingling in the Pinky? You May Have Ulnar Nerve Pain
Ever wake up with that pins and needles sensation through the pinky side of your hand and arm that just won't go away? Chances are you’re suffering from ulnar nerve pain.
Ulnar nerve problems are becoming more common, especially with all the excessive typing we do on keyboards these days. But the good news is that this compression of the nerve is often manageable once you understand the underlying cause.
This article will tell you everything you need to know about the ulnar nerve so you can get back to living pain-free.
What is Ulnar Nerve Pain?
Ulnar nerve pain, also known as ulnar neuropathy, occurs when the ulnar nerve in your arm gets compressed or irritated. This nerve runs from your neck to your hand, especially the little finger and ring finger.
Common causes of ulnar nerve pain include:
- Direct injury or trauma to the elbow
- Cysts or tumors in the elbow region
- Previous fractures or dislocations of the elbow
Types of Ulnar Nerve Pain
There are two main types of ulnar nerve pain to be aware of. Check out this table below:
Types of Ulnar Nerve Entrapment
Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
Once the ulnar nerve pinches at the elbow, it can lead to cubital tunnel syndrome. This often happens because the nerve has to bend sharply to pass behind the medial epicondyle of the humerus (the bony bump on the inside of your elbow).
Numbness and tingling in the ring and little fingers and the ulnar half of the ring finger.
Pain down your arm and muscle wasting in the hand.
At night, the numbness and pain can wake you from sleep.
Guyon’s Canal Syndrome
Guyon’s canal syndrome occurs when the ulnar nerve gets compressed in Guyon’s canal, the tunnel in your wrist.
Pain, tingling, or numbness in your wrist and palm, especially the pinky side
Weakness in your hand muscles
Difficulty grasping objects or clumsiness in your hands
Symptoms of Ulnar Nerve Pain
Ulnar nerve entrapment can manifest through various ulnar nerve issues symptoms, including:
Weakness or Tenderness in the Hand
When you feel weakness or tenderness in your hand, it means it isn't as strong as usual and might be sensitive to touch. As a result, this can affect your ability to hold things or perform tasks that need a strong grip.
These symptoms often start gradually and worsen over time if the underlying cause is not addressed. Some common issues include:
- Frequently dropping things or having trouble with fine motor skills requiring dexterity.
- Your hand may feel tender, sore, or hypersensitive to touch or pressure.
- Simple tasks like buttoning a shirt, opening jars, or using keys can become challenging.
- Difficulty forming a fist due to weakness or discomfort in the hand affects the ability to perform various hand movements.
Tingling Sensation on Fingers
Generally, the ulnar nerve runs near your elbow and controls sensation to your fourth and fifth fingers. Though the tingling sensation may come and go or be constant, it often worsens if not recognized. The tingling can even range from mild to severe and interfere with normal hand function and skill.
Pressure or damage to this nerve can cause:
Intermittent or Persistent Tingling
You may encounter occasional or continuous tingling sensations in your fingers. This feeling can range from subtle to pronounced.
Occurrence during Specific Activities
Tingling may intensify during certain activities, such as gripping objects or bending the elbow. Identifying the activities that trigger or worsen tingling can aid in diagnosis.
Tingling Worsens at Night
Some people may experience worsening tingling sensations at night. This can disrupt sleep and indicate the need for medical attention.
Weakness in Hand Muscles
In severe cases, the tingling can also spread pain down arm to thumb, and middle finger.
Tenderness in the Elbow Joint
The ulnar nerve passes through a narrow space in your elbow called the cubital tunnel. When this tunnel becomes irritated or compressed, it can cause pain and tenderness in your elbow joint.
Signs of ulnar nerve compression at the elbow include:
- Tenderness or soreness on the inner side of your elbow. The area may feel painful when touched or pressed.
- Discomfort that radiates from your elbow down to your wrist and hand.
- Stiffness or difficulty fully straightening your elbow. Your range of motion may feel restricted.
- Pain that worsens when your elbow is bent for long periods, such as when holding a phone to your ear or sleeping with your elbows bent.
- Swelling or warmth over the inner elbow. The area may look red or inflamed.
Curvy Pinky and Ring Fingers
One of the most common symptoms of ulnar nerve pain is a curved pinky finger that bends toward the ring finger. This is known as “claw hand” and occurs because the ulnar nerve controls certain muscles in the hand. When the nerve is compressed or injured, it can’t properly control those muscles, causing the fingers to curl.
Here's how to know if you have a claw hand:
- Your pinky finger may bend towards the ring finger at the knuckle.
- Your ring finger may also bend slightly at the knuckle.
- You may have difficulty straightening those fingers or grasping objects.
- In severe cases, the clawing and weakness in the hand may become permanent without treatment to relieve pressure on or repair the ulnar nerve.
Ergonomic Work-Related Causes
Ergonomic issues in the workplace can contribute to ulnar nerve pain, affecting the quality of daily tasks. Recognizing these causes is crucial for creating a healthier work environment.
Below are some common issues you might feel during the event:
Poor Wrist Angle
Incorrect wrist positioning during activities like typing can lead to Guyon's canal compression, affecting the ulnar nerve. This may result in discomfort and tingling sensations.
Excessive pressure on the forearm, especially during activities involving leaning or resting, can compress the ulnar nerve. This may cause pain and numbness in the hand and fingers.
Typing and Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
Repetitive typing is linked to cubital tunnel syndrome, especially with an awkward hand position. This condition involves the compression of the ulnar nerve, leading to pain, tingling, and weakness.
Inadequate Ergonomic Tools
Lack of proper ergonomic tools, such as chairs, keyboards, and mouse devices, contributes to ulnar nerve pain. Investing in ergonomic equipment can significantly improve workplace comfort.
Modern-Day Work Solutions for Ulnar Nerve Pain
If your ulnar nerve is acting up from too much typing or mousing, don't despair. There are some easy solutions you can try, and these include:
1. Create an Ergonomic Workspace
If you ever experience arm pain from typing too much, it's time for an intervention. Creating an ergonomic workspace is one of the best ways to relieve ulnar nerve pain and prevent future issues.
To help you achieve this goal, here's how you should do it:
- Make sure your chair is adjusted properly. Your feet should rest flat on the floor, your knees bent at a 90-degree angle, and your arms even with your work surface.
- Generally, your elbows should be at a 90-degree angle while typing. If your desk is too high, it can cause you to shrug your shoulders and bend your wrists up, compressing the ulnar nerve.
- Be mindful of your wrist position and alignment. Try to keep your wrists straight and supported when typing or mousing.
- Stand up, move around, and stretch on a regular basis. Even short 30-second breaks can help relieve pressure on your ulnar nerve and other muscles.
2. Perform Exercises to Strengthen Arm Muscles
To relieve ulnar nerve pain, strengthening your arm and shoulder muscles can help. Some cubital tunnel syndrome ulnar nerve entrapment exercises include:
Wrist Extensor Stretches
Extend your arm straight in front of you with your palm facing down. Bend your wrist upwards as far as possible while keeping your arm straight. Hold for 30 seconds, then release and repeat 10-15 times. This helps stretch and loosen the muscles that can compress the ulnar nerve.
Grab the ends of a towel with palms facing inward. Keeping your upper arm stationary near your side, bend only at the elbow to curl the weight up while contracting your biceps. Slowly, uncurl back down. Repeat for 2 sets of 10-15 reps each. This works the upper arm and shoulder muscles to take pressure off the ulnar nerve.
Roll your shoulders slowly forward and backward in circles. Start with small circles and gradually make them bigger. Do 10 rolls in each direction. This helps loosen tight neck and shoulder muscles that may irritate your ulnar nerve.
You can find more ergonomic exercises in our FREE Home Exercise Catalogue
4. Consider Using EdgeRest
- Reduces pressure on the ulnar nerve in the forearm, especially when resting your elbows on hard surfaces
- Helps maintain relief for pinched nerve in elbow
- Allows extended use of keyboards, trackpads, and other devices without discomfort
While not a substitute for diagnosis and treatment, an armrest cushion like the EdgeRest may relieve the ulnar nerve pain.
However, tell your doctor whether an EdgeRest or similar forearm support cushion may help reduce your ulnar nerve pain. When used properly, these ergonomic products can be part of an effective plan for managing nerve-related arm pain.
5. Consult a Healthcare Professional for Guidance
If your ulnar nerve pain is persistent or worsening, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor. They can examine your elbow and arm to determine the underlying cause of your symptoms and recommend an appropriate treatment plan.
To properly diagnose ulnar nerve pain, your doctor may order:
- Electromyography (EMG): Measures muscle activity and can determine if your ulnar nerve is sending proper signals.
- MRI or CT scan: Provides detailed images of your elbow and arm structures. It can detect abnormalities like bone spurs, cysts, or tumors compressing the ulnar nerve.
- X-rays: Can identify fractures, arthritis, or bone spurs that could contribute to your ulnar nerve pain.
Based on test results and the severity of your symptoms, your doctor may recommend the following:
- Physical therapy: Exercises to stretch and strengthen the arm muscles and stabilize the elbow joint. Also includes massage therapy and nerve gliding techniques.
- Brace or splint: Provides support and limits elbow movement. It can relieve pressure on the ulnar nerve.
- Surgery: Procedures like ulnar nerve transposition or decompression may be recommended if your pain is due to nerve compression that does not improve with other treatments.
Avoid Ulnar Nerve Pain with the Best Work-from-Home Solutions
While ulnar nerve pain can be uncomfortable and inconvenient, the good news is there are modern-day work solutions available to help prevent long-term damage.
Remember, your ulnar nerve is critical for full function and mobility in your arm and hand, so take good care of it and be proactive if you start experiencing symptoms. With the right self-care and medical support, ulnar nerve pain is manageable.
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