Tennis Elbow vs. Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

When someone experiences elbow pain, the most common cause is tennis elbow. However, it can be easy to confuse tennis elbow with cubital tunnel syndrome, since both can result in a very sore elbow and unusable arm.


Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) is a painful inflammation of the tendon on the outside (lateral aspect) of the elbow.

Cubital tunnel syndrome is a painful compression of the ulnar nerve on the inside of the elbow.


Tennis elbow is caused by the pull of the muscles which extend the wrist and fingers. It is a common injury for amateur tennis players who have: 1) one-hand backhand with poor technique, 2) late forehand swing with wrist snap, and/or 3) hard serve with wrist snap or palm turned downward.

Cubital tunnel syndrome is caused by irritation or injury to the ulnar nerve. It is frequently caused by using a computer, sleeping on bent elbows, repetitive factory work, long distance driving, or playing a musical instrument.


The main symptoms of tennis elbow are difficulty holding, pinching, or gripping objects; pain and stiffness in the elbow; and forearm muscle tightness and weakness.

The main symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome are tingling and numbness of the ring and little fingers, and pain along the inside forearm near the elbow. Over time the elbow may become very sore, and hand muscles can become numb and weak, resulting in a slow atrophy of the arm.


Tennis elbow can be treated with tennis elbow straps, cortisone injections, physical therapy (especially strengthening exercises), heat, ice, and anti-inflammatory medications.

Cubital tunnel syndrome can be treated with arms splints while sleeping, physical therapy, heat, massages, and anti-inflammatory medications.


With both injuries, treatment is recommended first, and surgery is a last resort.

Tennis elbow surgery consists of either of removing the inflammatory tissue, or release of the tendon from the humerus. This can be done as an open operation or office procedure. Recovery takes 2-6 weeks.

There are three types of cubital tunnel surgery. The most common, ulnar transposition, moves the ulnar nerve out of the cubital tunnel to the topside of the elbow. Most cubital tunnel surgeries require a 3-4 inch incision over the cubital tunnel on the elbow, and are performed under local anesthetic as an outpatient procedure. Recovery takes 2-8 weeks and is not always 100% effective.

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  1. Nerve Compression Syndromes
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  3. Severity Scale for Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
  4. Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
  5. Cell Phone Elbow or “Cellbow” Damages the Nerve in Your Arm

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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