Ulnar Nerve Palsy (Dysfunction) – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Treatment
What is ulnar nerve palsy?
Ulnar nerve palsy, also called ulnar nerve dysfunction, refers to damage of ulnar nerve. This nerve travels from the shoulder to the wrist. Ulnar nerve helps you move the arm, wrist, and hand. Ulnar nerve damage results in ulnar neuropathy.
What causes ulnar nerve palsy?
Ulnar nerve palsy occurs when there is damage to the ulnar nerve. This nerve travels from shoulder to the wrist, hand, and ring and little fingers. It passes near the surface of the elbow. Damage to the ulnar nerve can be caused by long-term pressure on the elbow or base of the palm. An elbow fracture or dislocation can also damage the ulnar nerve. In some cases, the cause is not found.
Diabetes also causes ulnar nerve palsy.
The following are the common causes of ulnar nerve palsy:
- Systemic disease (illness in the whole body)
- Direct injury to the nerve
- Long-term pressure on the nerve
- Pressure on the nerve caused by swelling or injury of nearby body structures
What are the symptoms of ulnar nerve palsy?
The following symptoms may occur with ulnar nerve palsy:
- Pain, numbness, decreased sensation, tingling, or burning sensation in the areas controlled by the nerve
- Abnormal sensations in the little finger and part of the ring finger, usually on the palm side
- Weakness, loss of coordination of the fingers
- Claw-like deformity of the hand and wrist
How is ulnar nerve palsy diagnosed?
The doctor will perform a physical examination and review the symptoms and medical history. The physical exam includes a detailed examination of the affected hand.
The doctor may order the following tests for diagnosis:
- Imaging tests, such as x-ray, MRI scan, or ultrasound to view the nerve and nearby structures
- Nerve conduction tests to check how fast nerve signals travel
- Electromyography (EMG) to check the health of the ulnar nerve and the muscles it controls
- Nerve biopsy to examine a piece of nerve tissue (rarely needed)
- Blood tests
How is ulnar nerve palsy treated?
The goal of treatment is to improve the function of the hand and arm. Sometimes, no treatment is needed, and the disorder will get better on its own.
If treatment is needed, the doctor may recommend:
- Over-the-counter or prescription medicines
- Corticosteroid injections around the nerve to reduce swelling and pressure
- Surgery to relieve pressure on the nerve to help if the symptoms get worse, or if there is proof that part of the nerve is wasting away.
The doctor may suggest the following self-care measures:
- A supportive splint at either the wrist or elbow to help prevent further injury and relieve the symptoms. You may need to wear it all day and night, or only at night.
- An elbow pad if the ulnar nerve is injured at the elbow. Also, avoid bumping or leaning on the elbow.
- Physical therapy exercises to help maintain muscle strength in the arm.
This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.