Ulnar nerve excursion and strain at the elbow and wrist associated with upper extremity motion

J Hand Surg Am. 2001 Jul;26(4):655-62. doi: 10.1053/jhsu.2001.26140.


Significant excursion of the ulnar nerve is required for unimpeded upper extremity motion. This study evaluated the excursion necessary to accommodate common motions of daily living and associated strain on the ulnar nerve. The 2 most common sites of nerve entrapment, the cubital tunnel and the entrance of Guyon's canal, were studied. Five fresh-frozen, thawed transthoracic cadaver specimens (10 arms) were dissected and the nerve was exposed at the elbow and wrist only enough to be marked with a microsuture. Excursion was measured with a laser mounted on a Vernier caliper fixed to the bone and aligned in the direction of nerve motion. A Microstrain (Burlington, VT) DVRT strain device was applied to the nerve at both the elbow and wrist. Nerve excursion associated with motion of the shoulder, elbow, wrist, and fingers (measured by goniometer) was measured at the wrist and elbow. An average of 4.9 mm ulnar nerve excursion was required at the elbow to accommodate shoulder motion from 30 degrees to 110 degrees of abduction, and 5.1 mm was needed for elbow motion from 10 degrees to 90 degrees. When the wrist was moved from 60 degrees of extension to 65 degrees of flexion, 13.6 mm excursion of the ulnar nerve was required at the wrist. When all the motions of the wrist, fingers, elbow, and shoulder were combined, 21.9 mm of ulnar nerve excursion was required at the elbow and 23.2 mm at the wrist. Ulnar nerve strain of 15% or greater was experienced at the elbow with elbow flexion and at the wrist with wrist extension and radial deviation. Any factor that limits excursion at these sites could result in repetitive traction of the nerve and possibly play a role in the pathophysiology of cubital tunnel syndrome or ulnar neuropathy at Guyon's canal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cubital Tunnel Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Elbow / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Shoulder / physiopathology
  • Stress, Mechanical
  • Ulnar Nerve / physiology*
  • Ulnar Nerve Compression Syndromes / physiopathology*
  • Wrist / physiopathology