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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Treating ulnar nerve compression

Te ora me te kōpeketanga akaaka kōwhiti

There are several treatments for ulnar nerve compression depending on how severe your case is. You can also try a few things yourself to help make it better.

Your GP will be able to treat and help you manage any underlying conditions that may be making your ulnar nerve compression worse. These include conditions like fluid retention, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and connective tissue diseases such as Sjögren's syndrome and lupus.

Self-care for ulnar nerve compression

Avoid or cut down on activities that make your symptoms worse.

If your ulnar nerve is compressed at your elbow, avoid leaning on your bent elbow or any activities that involve keeping your elbow bent (such as holding a phone to your ear or folding your arms). Also avoid anything that makes you repetitively bend and straighten your arm.

Putting a soft foam elbow pad over your elbow crease may help you to avoid absent-mindedly bending and leaning on your elbow.

Keeping your arms straight while sleeping is likely to make a big difference as most people sleep with their elbows bent. You could try bandaging a small towel around your arm to stop you bending it while you're asleep.

If your ulnar nerve is compressed at your wrist, you could consider wearing padded gloves when doing any activity that involves gripping or putting pressure on your hands. You could also try padding your bicycle handlebars.

Sometimes repetitive heavy tasks at work cause ulnar nerve compression at your wrist, so you might need to change the way you do things. If your symptoms are very disabling or continue for a long time, you may have to consider changing your job.

Elbow splint

If your ulnar nerve is compressed at the elbow, a hand therapist (a physiotherapist or occupational therapist who focusses on the hand and arm) can provide you with a properly fitted elbow splint, which will help you to keep your elbow straight.

A splint should comfortably stop you from fully bending your elbow, instead keeping it slightly bent. Wearing a splint for up to three months, at night and during the day while doing activity that makes your symptoms worse, can often stop your symptoms.

A hand therapist can also help you to identify what activities make your symptoms worse and how to change the way you do them.

Seeing a hand therapist is likely to make a real difference if you have ulnar nerve compression, but publicly funded hand therapy is only available to hospital patients, so you'll have to pay for treatment yourself. ACC may help with the cost of treatment if your ulnar nerve compression was caused by an injury. You can find a private hand therapist on the Association of Hand Therapists website.

Surgery

If your arm doesn't get better, your GP or hand therapist can refer you to a specialist hand surgeon to see if surgery would help.

Or you could choose to pay to see a private plastic surgeon, private orthopaedic surgeon or private neurosurgeon.

On the next page: Surgery for ulnar nerve compression

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed June 2022.

Sources

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Review key: HIWAH-240323