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Sports Medicine

My Elbow is Getting "Nervy"

11/16/2010

Question:

Dear NetWellness:

I would like to request information about possible causes of and treatment for my currently existing symptoms.

I am in my late fifties, female; I exercise regularly and am about ten pounds overweight. For a week or so my left elbow`s nerve (Ulnar nerve (?)--the "funny bone" sensation) has been hypersensitive to the motion of or pressure on the elbow (such as bending the elbow on a desk or table). In conjunction, a slight tingling numbness in my left hand is present. I have NO symptoms of pain nor stiffness on the joint`s movement.

Could the symptoms result from wearing an overweight backpack? Would an advertised "ergonomic" backpack solve such a problem? Or would sleeping in a restricted left arm position cause the above symptoms?

I`ve never had these symptoms before, would like to know how to heal the condition and prevent it from occurring in the future.

Could this condition become permanent if the source or cause is not found? What exercises and/or treatment is recommended? How long would it take my elbow and hand to heal? Long-term, could it affect my ability to keyboard/type?

Thank you for your expertise.

Sincerely,

Baffled

Answer:

Although it's great to hear you exercise regularly, it's unlikely the symptoms you're having are sports-related or exercise-related.

Despite this, perhaps the following information may be helpful.
Please keep in mind the fact a diagnosis and specific treatment recommendations tailored to a particular person cannot be made over the Internet.

You mentioned the ulnar nerve, which is the "funny bone" nerve which runs along the inner aspect of our elbows. If this nerve is irritated, numbness and tingling symptoms are usually felt in the small and ring fingers only. Whereas if numbness is present in digits other than or in addition to those two fingers, other possible causes would include carpal tunnel syndrome or irritation of a spinal nerve root in the neck. Neither of those last two conditions, however, would cause symptoms which vary with elbow movement, position or pressure.

If the onset of your symptoms coincided with a particular activity or event (such as having begun to wear an overweight backpack days or weeks before your symptoms began, or leaning on your elbow more, or sleeping in a position different than usual, etc.), this information would help your physician not only with the diagnosis but also the treatment of your condition and preventing its recurrence.

Answers to the four good questions in your last paragraph need to be based on the results of your physician's assessment.

For more information:

Go to the Sports Medicine health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Brian L Bowyer, MD Brian L Bowyer, MD
Clinical Associate Professor
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University