Smartphones and tablets have changed the way we live our lives, but they can also can cause some medical issues. Cell phone elbow occurs when patients experience tingling or numbness in their ring and pinkie fingers. Cubital tunnel syndrome or cell phone elbow is similar to carpal tunnel syndrome in that compression of a nerve results in tingling or numbness within the hand. Carpal tunnel syndrome creates numbness in the thumb, index, and middle fingers from pressure on the median nerve in the wrist, while in cubital tunnel syndrome, it is the ulnar nerve being pinched with the site of compression occuring behind the elbow.
Bending the elbow for long periods of time like when using a cell phone, sleeping with your elbows bent, or keeping your elbow on an armrest for too long can cause cubital tunnel syndrome. Although symptoms may not be immediate, these positions can aggravate the problem and progressively irritate the nerve.
Nonoperative treatments should be used first and include anti-inflammatory medications, elbow pads, splints, and avoidance of problem positions. But, if numbness is becoming constant or the hand has become weak, then nerve damage may have occurred surgical treatments should be considered.
Surgery for cubital tunnel syndrome, like carpal tunnel syndrome, involves making more room for the nerve so that the blood flow can be restored. In the elbow, this is often accomplished with simply releasing the tight tissue passing over the nerve. In some cases, when the nerve has lost its elasticity, or when it is unstable in its groove, the nerve may need to be moved to the front of the elbow (this is called a transposition.)