Learning objectives: After studying this article, the participant should be able to: 1. Describe a method of clinical evaluation for accurate diagnosis of ulnar compression syndrome at the elbow. 2. Evaluate the accuracy and efficacy of the described method in diagnosing surgically correctable nerve entrapment. 3. Present a protocol for conservative management followed by surgical correction. 4. Discuss the results of the method and protocol in two series of patients treated by a single surgeon.
Background: This study of two patient populations addresses the effectiveness of identifying surgically correctable ulnar nerve compression at the elbow based on provocative clinical testing alone in patients with cubital tunnel syndrome after failure of conservative treatment.
Methods: Twenty-four patients were included in the preliminary study (mean age, 60 years). Three of these patients underwent bilateral procedures. Patients complaining of symptoms in the distribution of the ulnar nerve were tested by elicitation of Tinel's sign and combined flexion and pressure testing at the elbow and wrist. Two-point discrimination was determined. After a failed 6-week trial of conservative therapy, patients underwent anterior submuscular transposition of the ulnar nerve with carpal tunnel release.
Results: Postoperatively, the change in two-point discrimination as measured at 6 months was significantly improved, with a mean improvement per digital nerve of 2.52 mm (p < 0.001). Mean time to relief was 7.2 weeks. Complications included one hematoma and one seroma. A total of 26 of the 27 limbs chosen for surgical treatment by provocative clinical testing alone experienced relief of symptoms with anterior submuscular transposition of the ulnar nerve and carpal tunnel release.
Conclusions: This study demonstrates the effectiveness of surgical therapy in patients with lesions identified by clinical examination without electrodiagnostic testing. After the completion of this study, an additional 87 patients were treated (18 bilateral) with cubital tunnel release. The data from these patients confirm the effectiveness of surgical treatment of ulnar entrapment neuropathy based on provocative clinical testing.