Open a PDF version to print this topic

HealthInfo Canterbury

Surgery for ulnar nerve compression

If ulnar nerve compression is causing continuous numbness or weakness in your hand, or if it has lasted for more than six months, you are likely to need surgery.

How is ulnar nerve compression surgery done?

shoulder examSurgery for ulnar nerve compression aims to stop the nerve from being squashed (compressed) by surrounding tissue. How the surgeon does that depends on where the problem is.

If your nerve is compressed at your elbow the surgeon will cut, or release, the band of tissue over the nerve. They may move the nerve slightly to the front of your elbow so it lies in a less pressured area. This also means when you bend your elbow the nerve stretches less.

If your nerve is compressed at your wrist, the surgeon will make a zig-zag cut at the base of your wrist, then cut through a ligament to release the pressure on the nerve. They may also remove any tissue that is pressing on the nerve, such as a ganglion cyst.

Surgery for ulnar nerve compression is usually done under a general anaesthetic (meaning you go to sleep) or a regional anaesthetic, which numbs all of your arm. A regional anaesthetic can also be called an arm block, and if you have this you will stay awake for the surgery.

Occasionally it is done under a local anaesthetic (meaning the area is made numb with injections, but you stay awake).

You can read more about having an anaesthetic.

If you are being treated by the Canterbury DHB Plastic Surgery Department you will be admitted to the Day Surgery Unit at Christchurch Hospital, or to the Admitting Unit at Burwood Hospital. If you are being treated by the Orthopaedic Department you will be admitted to the Admitting Unit at Burwood Hospital. Most people go home on the same day as their surgery, and don't stay in hospital overnight.

What are the risks and possible complications of surgery?

All operations carry some risk, and it's important to talk to your surgeon about this before you decide if you want surgery. Tell your surgeon about any problems you have had with surgery or healing, including any reactions to medicines. The following risks are not the only risks, but are the most common or serious ones.

Specific risks of ulnar nerve compression surgery

General surgery risks

Your wound may become infected, and you may need antibiotics. You may bleed excessively, and you may develop a haematoma (collection of blood) that needs draining. Your wound may take a long time to heal. You may get what are called hypertrophic scars. These are tender, woody, and thicker than normal scars. Tell your surgeon if you have had these in the past. You may have an allergy or reaction to the anaesthetic. Rarely, this can be life-threatening.

On the next page: Before & after surgery for ulnar nerve compression

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by clinical directors, Orthopaedics Department and Plastics Department, Canterbury DHB. Page created May 2017.


Page reference: 351295

Review key: HIWAH-240323