An Update on Treatment Modalities for Ulnar Nerve Entrapment: A Literature Review

Anesth Pain Med. 2020 Dec 24;10(6):e112070. doi: 10.5812/aapm.112070. eCollection 2020 Dec.


Context: Ulnar nerve entrapment is a relatively common entrapment syndrome second only in prevalence to carpal tunnel syndrome. The potential anatomic locations for entrapment include the brachial plexus, cubital tunnel, and Guyon's canal. Ulnar nerve entrapment is more so prevalent in pregnancy, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and patients with occupations involving periods of prolonged elbow flexion and/or wrist dorsiflexion. Cyclists are particularly at risk of Guyon's canal neuropathy. Patients typically present with sensory deficits of the palmar aspect of the fourth and fifth digits, followed by motor symptoms, including decreased pinch strength and difficulty fastening shirt buttons or opening bottles.

Evidence acquisition: Literature searches were performed using the below MeSH Terms using Mendeley version 1.19.4. Search fields were varied until further searches revealed no new articles. All articles were screened by title and abstract. Decision was made to include an article based on its relevance and the list of final articles was approved three of the authors. This included reading the entirety of the artice. Any question regarding the inclusion of an article was discussed by all authors until an agreement was reached.

Results: X-ray and CT play a role in diagnosis when a bony injury is thought to be related to the pathogenesis (i.e., fracture of the hook of the hamate.) MRI plays a role where soft tissue is thought to be related to the pathogenesis (i.e., tumor or swelling.) Electromyography and nerve conduction also play a role in diagnosis. Medical management, in conjunction with physical therapy, shows limited promise. However, minimally invasive techniques, including peripheral percutaneous electrode placement and ultrasound-guided electrode placement, have all been recently studied and show great promise. When these techniques fail, clinicians should resort to decompression, which can be done endoscopically or through an open incision. Endoscopic ulnar decompression shows great promise as a surgical option with minimal incisions.

Conclusions: Clinical diagnosis of ulnar nerve entrapment can often be delayed and requires the suspicion as well as a thorough neurological exam. Early recognition and diagnois are important for early institution of treatment. A wide array of diagnostic imaging can be useful in ruling out bony, soft tissue, or vascular etiologies, respectively. However, clinicians should resort to electrodiagnostic testing when a definitive diagnois is needed. Many new minimally invasive techniques are in the literature and show great promise; however, further large scale trials are needed to validate these techniques. Surgical options remains as a gold standard when adequate symptom relief is not achieved through minimally invasive means.

Keywords: Guyon’s Canal Neuropathy; Minimally Invasive; Non-Surgical Ulnar Nerve; Surgical Ulnar Nerve; Ulnar Compression; Ulnar Nerve Entrapment.

Publication types

  • Review