Complications from Cubital Tunnel Surgery

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome (CuTS) is an injury to the ulnar nerve in the arm that can result in moderate to severe pain and numbness in the elbow and ring & little fingers.  Untreated, CuTS can result in extreme pain and an unusable hand.

Conservative treatment such as splints, exercises and anti-inflammatory medication can help minor cases.  But most CuTS victims eventually require surgery.

Studies show the success rate is roughly the same for the three major types of cubital tunnel surgery.  About 70% of patients see significant improvement, 20% see some improvement, and 10% may see no change or even get worse.  From anecdotal evidence in the CuTS forums, surgery seems to help most patients at least a little bit.

CuTS surgery is a relatively minor surgery, but like all medical procedures, it does have complications and risks.  However, don’t let these potential problems prevent you from seeking necessary surgery.  Even with a minor chance of complication, surgery is a much better bet than a life of pain, numbness and weakness from CuTS.

Following are the most common complications from cubital tunnel surgery:


Infection

Infection at the incision is the most common complication of CuTS surgery.  This can occur from unsanitary conditions in the operating room, or if the patient fails to keep the wound clean and properly bandaged.  The result can be pain, swelling, redness, and a thickening of the skin.  Infections can usually be treated successfully with antibiotics.

Blood Clot

Blood clot is the second most common complication.  A blood clot occurs when the blood coagulates (hardens) and reduces blood flow to the wound or ulnar nerve.  There are many causes of blood clots including poor surgical technique, diabetes, dehydration, smoking, or obesity.  The result can be pain, tingling or numbness near the clot.  A blood clot can become life threatening if it migrates to a person’s heart or lungs.  Clots can often be treated successfully with blood thinners.

Anterior Subluxation

Anterior subluxation is when the ulnar nerve moves out of its normal resting position when the elbow is bent.  This can occur if the surgeon operates too far past the point of constriction, or if the structures holding the nerve in place are damaged or injured.  Typically this problem will require another surgery.

New Constriction

Scar tissue can form near the surgical site, and sometimes this tighter and harder tissue can pinch the ulnar nerve, causing pain and numbness.  Typically this will require another surgery, though sometimes a less invasive method such as laser treatment is possible.

Excessive Bleeding

Excessive bleeding can occur if large blood vessels are damaged during surgery, if the patient normally has problems with excessive bleeding, or if the patient is taking blood-thinning medication.  Patients should notify their doctors before surgery of all medications and conditions.

Allergic Reaction

Some patients may experience an allergic reaction to the anesthetic, medicines, ointments, or latex bandages used during and after surgery.  Patients should notify their doctors before surgery of any known allergies.

Nausea and Vomiting

Some patients experience nausea or vomiting after surgery, typically from an adverse reaction to the anesthetic.  Patients are advised to avoid all food and liquid after midnight the night before surgery to minimize the chance of nausea and vomiting.

Nerve Damage

Less than 1% of patients may experience nerve damage from CuTS surgery.  This can occur if the surgeon mistakenly nicks or severs a nerve.  The worst-case result can be permanent numbness or weakness in the affected arm.

Death

Death from CuTS surgery is extremely rare and is typically the result of another medical condition that leads to heart attack or stroke.

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References

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Important: This website is for information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information on this website represents the personal experience of cubital tunnel patients and has not been certified by medical professionals. Each person and case is different. Be sure to seek medical advice from a doctor with experience treating cubital tunnel syndrome and get a second opinion if needed.

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