Last Updated: 7/20/2023
Certain types of occupations are prone to an ulnar nerve injury. This affects the arm and can cause pain or numbness from nerve compression. It's important to understand what causes this type of injury and the injured worker’s entitlement to workers' compensation benefits.
What is an ulnar nerve injury and how does it happen?
There are three main nerves in the arm, one of which is the ulnar nerve. Constricting or compressing the nerve can cause pain and discomfort.
Constricting the ulnar nerve can lead to numbness or pain that affects the:
- hand; or
In many cases it occurs behind the elbow, known as cubital tunnel syndrome. An ulnar tunnel injury oftentimes stems from repetitive strain, such as those who work at a desk or workbench.
Those who bend their elbow for an extended period of time to perform job tasks are at risk of injury. For instance, it puts pressure on the nerve when leaning on the elbow for long periods of time, or when holding the arms up and away from the body, such as a hairdresser does. It can also happen as a result of carrying items forward and away from the body.
Some examples of workers in Iowa who may be at risk include those who work in:
- shipping; or
- moving furniture.
What are the symptoms of an ulnar nerve injury?
If the injury affects the elbow or hand, it may feel like an aching pain. With the fingers, it could cause the little finger and ring finger to feel tingly. It can also be difficult to move the fingers or manipulate objects.
Symptoms aren't always constant, but they tend to exacerbate with certain movements. An example is when driving, which requires bending the elbow. Sometimes symptoms occur at night and wake up the patient. Because it's possible for muscle to waste away with nerve compression that's occurred for a long period of time, it's important to seek medical treatment.
What are treatments for an ulnar nerve injury?
Doctors usually try conservative forms of treatment first. This may include medication or steroid injections to reduce inflammation. Other nonsurgical types of treatment include splinting or bracing and nerve gliding exercises “to help the ulnar nerve slide through the cubital tunnel at the elbow,” according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
If these forms of treatment don't work or if the compression is severe, surgery may be the only option to treat the problem. There are different types of procedures that a surgeon will discuss.
What is the prognosis of an ulnar nerve injury and does it qualify for workers' compensation?
In general, surgery produces successful results. But in some cases, the damage is irreparable and the individual will continue to experience symptoms.
If the injury occurred during the scope of employment, the worker may file for workers' compensation benefits to cover medical costs and to recover disability benefits. Disability benefits may be temporary while the worker recovers. Some return to work at a lower wage or fewer hours while recovering and may qualify for temporary partial disability. If the injury causes permanent impairment, the worker may receive permanent partial disability (PPD), which is dependent on the doctor’s impairment rating.