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Trapped ulnar nerve

Tailored private treatment for a trapped ulnar nerve

Your ulnar nerve travels from the back of your inner elbow (also referred to as your funny bone), through a tight tunnel of tissue (known as your cubital tunnel) between your forearm muscles. It helps you move your forearm, part of the palm of your hands, and your fourth and fifth fingers. It also helps you grip things with your hand, allowing for everyday activities like carrying bags or even holding a pen to write.

Your ulnar nerve also helps you perform fine motor skills (these involve the smaller muscles of your hand), such as using scissors, dialling the phone, or buttoning and unbuttoning your clothing.

Your ulnar nerve can become trapped (compressed as it passes through your wrist or elbow) due to a variety of reasons, including a dislocated elbow, a direct blow to your elbow during an accident (such as falling and landing on your elbow during sport), and even conditions such as diabetes. We explain more about the causes of a trapped ulnar nerve below. A trapped ulnar nerve is also known as:

A trapped ulnar nerve is very treatable

Although having a trapped ulnar nerve can be very painful and interfere with your ability to move your elbow properly, it is very treatable. A trapped ulnar nerve is most often treated by an orthopaedic consultant, who specialises in the treatment of disorders of your bones, joints, and often trapped nerves that affect your ability to use your joints properly.

At Circle Health Group, we have a network of thousands of highly skilled, dedicated orthopaedic surgeons we can perform a broad scope of treatment options, including surgery, for a trapped ulnar nerve. Give us a call or book online today and you'll often be able to book your first consultation within 48 hours.

The cost of trapped ulnar nerve treatment depends on the type of treatment you have and in which hospital you have it.

Our fixed-price packages include the cost of your treatment and all appropriate aftercare appointments. However, any pre-surgery diagnostic tests and your consultant’s outpatient appointment consultation fee are charged separately.

Our flexible payment options help you spread the cost of your payment across a time that suits you. We offer fixed-term monthly payment plans over one to five years with no deposit required. If you decide to pay over 10 months, you will pay interest-free. If you are paying for a longer period, you will pay 14.9% APR.

If you have private health insurance, ulnar nerve release treatment will usually be covered by your provider. Speak to your insurer directly to find out.

There are many symptoms of a trapped ulnar nerve, and many people will experience these differently. The main symptoms of a trapped ulnar nerve include:

  • Pain in your forearm and fourth and fifth fingers
  • Tingling in your forearm, palm, and fourth and fifth fingers
  • Weakness in your forearm and elbow joint
  • Tenderness in your elbow joint
  • Stiffness in your elbow joint
  • A decreased ability to grip object with your fingers

These symptoms can vary in severity from person to person. Some people will find they come and go in flare ups, while others will experience symptoms consistently, which can have more of an impact on their everyday life. Regardless of how severe your symptoms are, there are several treatment options available to help you effectively manage your condition and regain mobility in your forearm and hands.

There are several causes of a trapped ulnar nerve, including:

An elbow fracture or dislocation

Either of these injuries can damage or irritate your ulnar nerve, causing it to become swollen and compressed in your cubital tunnel. You usually fracture or dislocate your elbow during a sports accident or bad fall the results in you falling directly on your elbow. A fracture occurs when a break or crack forms in your bone, and a dislocation happens when two ends of your bone come apart where they meet at your joint.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory joint condition caused by an autoimmune process, which happens when your body attacks its healthy cells by mistake. This often causes pain, swelling, and inflammation in your joints. RA can irritate or damage your ulnar nerve in a similar way to an injury, causing it to become swollen and compressed in your cubital tunnel.

Tumours or cysts

Cysts (lumps of fluid under your skin) or tumours (an abnormal mass of tissues that occur when cells grow and divide), can grow or protrude, pushing against your ulnar nerve, causing it to become trapped and compressed in your cubital tunnel.


Neuropathy (nerve damage) is common in people with diabetes, which is a condition that causes your blood sugar level to become too high. Over time, high blood glucose (sugar) levels can damage the small blood vessels that supply the nerves in your body. This stops important nutrients reaching your nerves. As a result, the nerve fibres can become damaged, and they may disappear.

There are several other causes of a trapped ulnar nerve, including obesity and even pregnancy. Whatever the cause of your trapped ulnar nerve, we have a network of orthopaedic consultants who can help you get better.

At Circle Health Group, almost every patient journey will start with an initial consultation. This is where you will meet your specialist and begin to get to know one another.

Your consultant will start by taking a detailed medical history. They'll ask about your symptoms, how long you've been having them and how they affect your life, as well as whether you've had any treatment to date and how effective it was. Then they will make a physical examination, looking at your forearm and elbow specifically.

Our orthopaedic surgeons often send people to our imaging department to get X-rays, CT scans or MRI scans to aid diagnosis. You might be able to have these the same day as your initial consultation, or we might ask you to come back another day. Our hospitals have excellent onsite imaging facilities, and our radiologists work closely with our surgeons so that you get your results as soon as possible.

Once we have enough information to make a firm diagnosis, your consultant will start building a treatment plan bespoke to you. This will be based on your personal circumstances and preferences, and they will talk you through all the options, highlighting their own recommendations and explaining why they have chosen them. The final decision about what treatment to have is up to you.

There are several surgical and non-surgical treatment options for a trapped ulnar nerve. We offer both categories of treatment. Our non-surgical treatment options include:


Your dedicated physiotherapist will work with you to build a series of tailored arm exercises to relax the muscles in your arm, releasing pressure on your ulnar nerve and reducing your symptoms. They will decide how long you should have physiotherapy for depending on the severity of your situation.


A splint is typically plaster held on your arm with a bandage. It helps reduce sudden movement, swelling, and pain in your arm. This helps your joint heal if it has been damaged, which can help relieve pressure on your ulnar nerve as a result.

Traditional painkillers

These can either be prescribed by your GP or your consultant. They reduce swelling in your elbow, which can lessen stiffness and pain, and help release your trapped ulnar nerve. Your doctor might also recommend using heat therapy (in the form of icepacks or heat pads) to reduce swelling or numb your joint pain, which can, in turn, help relieve pressure on your ulnar nerve. Heat therapy can be used in addition to anti-inflammatory medication.

If non-surgical options have not helped, you might need surgery to eliminate your symptoms and restore mobility and function in your elbow. This procedure is known as ulnar nerve transposition. It helps to relieve the pressure on your ulnar nerve by relocating it.

Preparing for an ulnar transposition procedure

There isn't a huge amount you can do to prepare for this surgery, other than maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle in the runup to your operation to ensure you recover as quickly and safely as possible.

You should avoid drinking alcohol for at least 48 hours before having surgery. Please speak with your consultant about this in more detail. Your consultant will also share information on whether you should avoid taking your usual medication before going into hospital, or the kind of medication you might need to take after you have surgery.

What happens during an ulnar nerve transposition procedure?

Your consultant will begin by making a five-inch cut at the back of your arm. They will use specialist surgical instrument to examine your ulnar nerve and remove any tissue surrounding it that could be causing compression. They will then remove the nerve from its current position behind your elbow and relocate it just in front of your elbow. Your consultant will close the cut in your arm using dissolvable stitches.

You will typically be under general anaesthetic during the procedure, which means you will not be awake during the surgery. The procedure normally takes around 30 to 45 minutes for your consultant to perform.

Recovering from ulnar nerve transposition surgery

This procedure is carried out as an outpatient appointment, meaning you'll go home the same day. When you wake up, your arm will be placed in dressing and a sling. You will need to wear the sling and dressing for the first two or three days, but your consultant will provide more detailed information on this. It is normal to experience pain and swelling in your arm and hand after surgery, which can be managed with traditional painkillers.

Full recovery from the procedure can take up to six months, but you will experience improvement in mobility in your arm and hand within two or three weeks. You might need physiotherapy sessions after surgery to maximise your recovery and strengthen the muscle around your joint.

Your consultant and multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals is there to answer any questions about your surgery and recovery.

It is important to remember that complications from surgery are rare and that there are risks attached to any surgery, not just this one.

Potential complications during any surgical procedure include:

  • Infection in the surgical wound
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Scarring
  • Blood clots
  • Chest infection
  • Difficulty passing urine
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke

Specific complications that can occur during ulnar nerve transposition include:

  • Further nerve damage
  • Infection
  • Inflammation of your veins
  • Prolonged elbow stiffness
  • Elbow instability

We answer your commonly asked questions about a compressed ulnar nerve.

Can a trapped ulnar nerve cause breast pain?

Yes, a trapped ulnar nerve in your elbow can cause pain in your arms, neck, chest, upper back, and even shoulders. This is known as referred pain, which happens when you feel pain in one part of your body that is caused by nerve damage or an injury in a different part of your body.

Can a trapped nerve ever go away?

Yes, it can be effectively managed and even eliminated with the treatment options mentioned above. In some cases, it can resolve on its own, but this is more unusual.

What does a trapped ulnar nerve feel like?

It can cause pain, numbness, and tingling in your forearm and fourth and fifth fingers. These are distinctive symptoms that clearly indicate you have a trapped ulnar nerve.

What aggravates a trapped ulnar nerve?

The condition is aggravated by long period of time spent repeatedly bending your elbow (for example if you regularly play tennis, or type at a desk). These activities, among many others that require fine motor skill, can make your symptoms worse.

When you choose to go private with Circle Health Group, you can expect:

  • Flexible appointment times to fit your schedule
  • The freedom to choose your hospital and your consultant
  • Bespoke, consultant-led treatment plans tailored to your individual needs
  • Private ensuite rooms as standard
  • Tasty and nutritious meals cooked onsite to your dietary requirements
  • Support from the same compassionate clinical team from beginning to end
  • Affordable, fixed-price packages with aftercare included
  • Flexible payment options to help spread the cost of your care

If you want to know more about treatment for a trapped ulnar nerve, book your appointment online today or call a member of our team directly on 0141 300 5009.

Content reviewed by Circle in-house team in January 2023. Next review due January 2026.

  1. Ulnar nerve entrapment, Johns Hopkins
  2. Ulnar nerve entrapment, OrthoInfo
  3. Ulnar nerve decompression/transposition, NHS

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