Recovery Time from Cubital Tunnel Surgery

Cubital tunnel syndrome (CuTS) is a repetitive stress injury (RSI) that feels like you hit your funny bone.  CuTS is caused when the ulnar nerve in your arm is irritated, pinched or damaged, typically at the bony point on the elbow.  If left untreated, CuTS can result in extreme pain, surgery or an unusable hand.

Most doctors recommend that patients undergo conservative treatment before rushing to surgery, except in cases of injury or severe CuTS.  Conservative treatment includes wearing a splint to keep your arm straight while sleeping, physical therapy, change in work habits, using tools and technology to reduce repetitive motion, and taking medication to reduce pain.

Recovery Depends on Many Factors

If surgery is required, one of the most common questions is: When can I return to work?  The answer depends on many factors, such as:

  • Severity of symptoms
    The more severe the pain, numbness and loss of function before surgery, the longer it will take to recover after surgery. 
     
  • Type of surgery performed
    There is a longer recovery time for transposition surgery, which moves the ulnar nerve out of the cubital tunnel on the elbow and deposits it in the nearby muscle.  Decompression surgery, which removes pressure on the ulnar nerve by incising a ligament and opening the cubital tunnel, has the fastest recovery time of CuTS surgeries.  Medial epicondylectomy, or the shaving down of the bony point of the elbow, has a recovery time that’s more than decompression but less than transposition.
     
  • Patient’s health, history and age
    The more healthy a patient, the faster they will recover from most surgeries.  Young adults also tend to recover faster than older patients.  People with problems healing from wounds will of course take longer to recover from any surgery.
     
  • Cause of CuTS: injury vs. repetitive use vs. cysts
    Injuries may permanently damage the ulnar nerve and prevent full recovery.  Repetitive use tends to damage the nerve more slowly.  Removal of cysts tends to eliminate symptoms immediately.

General Recovery Times

So given there are many factors and varied recovery times, one cannot say for sure how long it will take you specifically to recover from your cubital tunnel surgery. 

Nonetheless, the table below provides the expected recovery times from cubital tunnel surgery.  These are based on CuTS studies, my experience, and anecdotal evidence on the Web and in the Cubital-Tunnel.com Forums:

Recovery Milestones Time After Surgery:
Decompression
Time After Surgery:
Transposition
Heavy pain 2-3 days 3-7 days
Require strong painkillers 3-10 days 5-14 days
Return to work;
no use of arm
5-7 days 5-14 days
Arm immobilized in bandage/splint 2-3 weeks 3-5 weeks
Light use of arm 2-4 weeks 4-6 weeks
Require light painkillers (Advil) 1-2 months 2-4 months
Normal use of arm 3-4 months 4-6 months
Complete recovery (no symptoms*) 4-6 months 6-12 months

*Note that some patients never recover completely from CuTS surgery, especially if they return to the activities that caused their CuTS in the first place.

So do these times match your experience?  Please comment in our forums.

Related posts:

  1. My Experience with Ulnar Decompression Surgery for Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
  2. Conclusions from Studies on Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
  3. Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
  4. Top 10 Things You Need to Know About Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
  5. Study Questions Transposition Surgery for Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

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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