Ulnar nerve entrapment

Last updated: March 2, 2023

Summarytoggle arrow icon

Ulnar nerve entrapment occurs when the ulnar nerve is compressed, typically at the elbow or the wrist. Compression at the elbow is called cubital tunnel syndrome; compression at the wrist it is referred to as Guyon's canal syndrome or ulnar tunnel syndrome. The compression causes paresthesias, numbness, and/or pain in the ulnar nerve distribution. Depending on the site of compression, the patient may experience weakness in certain hand muscles. Ulnar entrapment neuropathy may be suspected based on clinical symptoms and signs, but it must be confirmed by electromyography (EMG). Conservative treatment involves NSAIDs, behavior modification, and bracing. Severe, persistent, or worsening symptoms require surgical decompression.


Sensory innervation

  • Palmar and dorsal aspects of the medial side of the hand
  • Palmar and dorsal aspects of the entire little finger and the ulnar aspect of the ring finger

Motor innervation

The ulnar nerve is most commonly compressed at or near the cubital tunnel of the elbow and Guyon canal of the wrist.

Cubital tunnel syndrome

Guyon canal syndrome

Muscle weakness and atrophy

Sensory loss and pain

  • Lesions at the elbow
  • Lesions at the ulnar canal (located in the wrist)
    • The ulnar canal is divided into three zones
      • Zone I: proximal to the bifurcation of the ulnar nerve
        • Motor and sensory symptoms (i.e., sensory loss in the palmar surface of the small finger and medial aspect of the ring finger) possible
        • Sensory features similar to those caused by proximal lesions at the elbow
      • Zone II: lesions at the deep motor branch cause motor symptoms only
      • Zone III: lesions at the distal sensory branch cause sensory symptoms only

Proximal and distal lesions of the ulnar nerve lead to claw hand deformity.

  1. Wilder-Smith EP, Van Brakel WH. Nerve damage in leprosy and its management. Nature Clinical Practice Neurology. 2008; 4 (12): p.656-663. doi: 10.1038/ncpneuro0941 . | Open in Read by QxMD

3 free articles remaining

You have 3 free member-only articles left this month. Sign up and get unlimited access.
 Evidence-based content, created and peer-reviewed by physicians. Read the disclaimer