Do you sleep with one arm under your pillow? If you do, you might wake up from time to time with a completely numb, “dead” arm, which feels creepy and frightening. That’s harmless enough, but after time, repeated compression of the nerves that run along your elbow can cause elbow injuries. It’s common to suffer elbow injuries by sleeping incorrectly at night.
Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
If you bang your elbow over your cubital tunnel, you hit on the ulnar nerve. Immediately you experience that weird tingly-numb-yet-sharp pain that tickles and kills at the same time. That’s the region we call the “funny bone.” Multiply that pain times ten and it’s not even remotely funny anymore. That’s Cubital Tunnel Syndrome (CTS).
The human head weighs ten pounds. Having your ulnar nerve compressed by all of that weight while you sleep is not nice. The nerve will start to voice its displeasure so that you STOP.
A tingly pain starts at the inside of your elbow and radiates all the way down to your pinkie and ring fingers. You might have trouble hitting the “backspace” or “tab” button on your keyboard, depending on which elbow it is.
Doctors treat this with ibuprofen. Your doctor will also have you wear a splint or pad that prevents you from bending your elbow as you sleep at night.
Your chiropractor will show you how to do Ulnar Nerve Glide exercises as treatment for CTS.
- Put your arms straight out from your sides, with your fingers together, wrists locked, like you are pushing against two walls.
- Slowly bend your elbows and bring your still flexed wrists up under your ears, like you are cupping each ear.
- Continue to bring your fingers to your shoulders, but stop if this gets painful. You should not feel pain.
Radial Tunnel Syndrome
On the outside of the elbow is the radial tunnel. The radial nerve runs through it. Doctors often mistake Radial Tunnel Syndrome (RTS) for Tennis Elbow because the symptoms are similar. Tennis Elbow occurs when you overuse the tendons and muscles that run on the outside of your elbow.
If you start feeling a burning sensation and/or sharp pains in the top of your forearm or the top of your hand, are unable to pinch with your thumb and index finger, your elbow is numb and you can’t bear to extend your wrist and fingers, or you have tingling in your middle and ring fingers, those are symptoms of Radial Tunnel Syndrome (RTS).
The doctor will treat RTS much the same as CTS. The Radial Nerve Glide is done on your injured arm as follows:
- Start out standing straight with your arms down at your sides.
- Dip your head to the opposite shoulder of the injured elbow.
- Make a fist by grabbing your thumb.
- Keeping your arm straight, rotate your wrist clockwise so that the top of your hand faces your side.
- Slowly lift your straightened arm away from your side parallel with your body. Keep your shoulder dropped. If you feel pain; stop. This exercise should not cause pain.
With a little rest and rehab you should be able to get these problems fixed after a few weeks. Continue to wear your splint at night if you haven’t broken the habit of sleeping on your arm. Most importantly—make sure you sleep in the proper position at night.