Surgery is often the last resort for treatment when it comes to ulnar nerve damage, but sometimes it is necessary when all other options have failed.
The ulnar nerve runs from the armpit to the fingers, and when severely damaged can significantly impact everyday life; surgery for ulnar nerve compression can be a huge relief for sufferers.
Ulnar nerve surgery has a high success rate, and most people find that their symptoms are severely reduced and mobility restored following surgical intervention.
However, as with any surgical procedure, ulnar nerve surgery can have complications ranging from minor to severe.
Talking through the potential for these with your doctor will help answer any questions related to your specific procedure.
How Ulnar Nerve Compression Happens
Unfortunately, the ulnar nerve can be damaged by a number of activities that are common to everyday life.
One of the most common things that causes ulnar nerve damage is keeping the elbows bent, which is unfortunately what many people do at their jobs each day.
Leaning on the elbow can also contribute to ulnar nerve compression, and of course, hitting your elbow may also cause pressure to build.
In fact, if you’ve ever hit your funny bone, you’ve probably felt the shock that radiates from your elbow to fingers – or the ulnar nerve.
Common symptoms of Ulnar Nerve Compression
Most sufferers will feel ulnar nerve pain in their fingers, usually in the form of numb or tingling sensations. Bending the elbow may exacerbate these feelings, and sufferers may find they wake up with numb fingers after sleep.
Overall weakening may also develop, with decreased strength of grip and ability to perform objects that require finger use, such as typing.
One of the main things that doctors recommend is that when any of these symptoms persist, it is best to seek medical treatment as soon as possible.
Ulnar nerve compression can be treated less invasively when it is found early enough, so avoiding surgery with early detection is the ideal treatment scenario.
Types of Ulnar Nerve Surgery
When other treatments haven’t worked, there are several surgical interventions used for damaged ulnar nerves, and each carries its own risks.
Ulnar Nerve Anterior Transposition
For compressed nerves in the elbow area, the impacted nerve may need to be physically moved to reduce compression. This allows the nerve to move with the elbow went it is bent more fluidly
Cubital Tunnel Release
In order to reduce pressure of the nerve, a surgeon may choose to literally expand the size of the cubital tunnel by cutting a small part of the ligament. Typically, this is done for less severe cases of cubital tunnel compression.
This procedure is similar to transposition in that it removes a small portion to allow the nerve to move more freely.
For compressed nerves in the wrist area, typically parts of the bone will be removed to reduce pressure
Major Ulnar Nerve Surgery Complications
Most complications of ulnar nerve surgery are the same as those with any surgery. Some of the major complications that can result from surgery include:
There are a number of preventative techniques used to prevent infection in medical facilities, but unfortunately infection is still one of the biggest concerns with surgery.
The skin is full of different bacteria, and some of this can easily enter the wound and spread throughout the body.
Symptoms of infection typically include oozing or redness of wounds, pain, and feelings of warmth, while more severe infections may cause fever and chills.
Sometimes blood vessels can be damaged during surgical procedures, and this will often be followed by excessive bleeding. Taking blood thinners or having a blood-related disease can affect how much you bleed during and after surgery.
Most patients will have undergone significant evaluations before a surgical procedure, but the risk of allergic reaction can still be a complication in surgery. Reactions can be caused by everything from anesthesia to the type of gloves worn by medical professionals.
Failure to address the problem through a surgical intervention can be a concern for those undergoing treatment, particularly in the case of surgery in the elbow area. In this case symptoms will return, and may even become worse following the surgery.
When surgically repairing the ulnar nerve in the elbow area, sometimes anterior subluxation can start to occur.
This is when the elbow is bent and the nerve moves out of place, but is often prevented by a number of proactive measures by the surgeon, including monitoring nerve position during movement before the procedure.
Minor Ulnar Nerve Surgery Complications
Minor complications that may result from ulnar nerve surgery are typically those that are common to many types of procedures. Often there are measures put into place to help make sure that any complications are taken care of easily.
Nausea and Vomiting
Sometimes patients feel nauseas and may vomit after surgery, particularly after waking from anesthesia. However, this typically passes quickly, and can be addressed by hospital staff.
After surgery near the elbow it is common for patients to feel stiffness or decreased movement. However, this will lessen as swelling reduces and healing starts, and can be minimized through therapeutic movements.
Pain and tenderness
Patients may feel pain or tenderness in the elbow following surgery, as it takes time for the surgical site to heal. As with any wound, patients may notice some bleeding or swelling at the area.
While many surgical techniques have improved to reduce large scars, patients will also likely notice a scar at the site of the surgery.
This area may be painful or itchy, but there are certain creams, lotions, and herbal treatments that can help reduce abnormal scarring.
As with any surgical procedure, ulnar nerve surgery can have complications, although these are typically the same general concerns of all types of surgery.
However, for those who have significant nerve compression and pain, these risks may be far preferable to the alternative.