Is Your Pinky Tingling?

Have you ever had your pinky go numb or start tingling, especially at night? If so, did your co-worker tell you it might be carpal tunnel syndrome? Hmm…probably not the right diagnosis. Although carpal tunnel syndrome also involves fingers starting to tingle or go numb, that problem is associated with the median nerve, which supplies your thumb and first three fingers (and half of your ring finger.) If your PINKY gets involved with the tingling, that is due to the nerve on the other side of your arm- the ulnar nerve.

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome, also known as Ulnar Neuropathy, results from pressure or compression of the ulnar nerve at the elbow. Men suffer from this problem much more than women, anywhere from 3-8 times more often. What causes this? Sleeping with your elbows bent and arms overhead (scrunched up under your pillow as a side-sleeper) is a common cause. Athletes who have repetitive upper arm motions such as throwing, hitting with a raquet or skiing can also suffer from this problem.

The primary prevention is to avoid prolonged periods with pressure on your elbow. For example, if you are driving a long distance, be careful not to prop your left elbow on the arm rest (putting pressure directly on the side of your elbow) for extended amounts of time. If you are a side sleeper, try not to extend your arms over your head.

Treatment depends on the severity and duration of symptoms. Many cases can be treated with NSAIDs (like ibuprofen) or a simple steroid injection into the elbow, coupled with the avoidance behaviors noted above. Bracing at night, physical therapy and ergonomic corrections to computer desks go a long way towards correcting and preventing future injuries. A minority of cases are so severe that they do indeed require surgery, but 85-90% of all cases of cubital tunnel syndrome will resolve with good to excellent results.

BOTTOM LINE: All that tingles (in fingers) is NOT carpal tunnel- if you have persistent pain, numbness or tingling in your ring finger, pinky , or forearm, you may be suffering from another compression syndrome such as Cubital Tunnel Syndrome.

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