A pinched nerve (nerve entrapment) in or near the elbow can cause elbow pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness of the arm, wrist, or hand. The nerve that most commonly gets pinched in or near the elbow is the ulnar nerve. It is located in the elbow area, on the little finger side when the palm is facing up. Less often, the median or the posterior interosseous nerve, a branch of the radial nerve next to the elbow area on the thumb side when the palm is facing up, may get pinched.
Examples of nerve entrapment syndromes that affect the elbow include:
- Cubital tunnel syndrome, which involves the ulnar nerve. Repeated injury to the elbow can cause scar tissue to form over the ulnar nerve as it passes through the groove in the middle of the elbow. The scar tissue pinches the nerve, causing elbow pain and numbness and tingling that can occur down into the ring and little fingers along with a loss of strength in the fingers. This syndrome is similar to carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrist.
- Pronator teres syndrome, which involves the median nerve as it passes beneath the muscles in the forearm at the elbow. The forearm tends to ache, and pain spreads down the forearm toward the wrist, hand, and thumb area.
- Posterior interosseous nerve syndrome, which involves compression of a branch of the radial nerve. Posterior interosseous nerve syndrome does not involve a loss of sensation, such as numbness or tingling, but may cause weakness of the wrist and fingers. This syndrome may be misdiagnosed as tennis elbow because pain is felt on the outside (lateral) part of the elbow in both of these conditions.
Treatment for these nerve entrapment syndromes includes rest, stretching, taking anti-inflammatory medicines, and occasionally surgery.