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Ulnar Nerve Damage - the Workingman's Injury

One type of injury that I see a lot as a Workers' Compensation Attorney in California is damage to and/or entrapment of the Ulnar Nerve. Representing workers with this injury hits home for me because I have suffered it myself and have first hand knowledge of some of its lifelong effects.

The Ulnar Nerve in one of the arm's three major nerves (the other two are the radial and the median nerve). It travels from the neck through the shoulder down the arm into the wrist and fingers and can be constricted in various places along the way, one of the most common areas of constriction being the elbow. Ulnar nerve constriction at the elbow is commonly referred to as "cubital tunnel syndrome" and symptoms usually include numbness and tingling in the ring finger and half of the little finger, grip weakness, and difficulty with finger coordination. Surgery is often required in order to move the nerve to a different area of the arm in the hope that the nerve will regenerate from the area of constriction (typical regeneration occurs at the rate of 1 mm per day from the crush site to the tip of the little finger).

When I had cubital tunnel syndrome (sometime around 2007 or 2008) it started one morning when I woke up and could not feel half of my left hand for no obvious reason. I figured that I probably slept on my arm funny, and that the numbness and tingling would pass within a few minutes or so. When I still had the numbness and tingling after a week or so, I knew that it was more serious and that I needed to be checked out by a doctor. I then underwent a series of nerve conduction studies (EMG/NCV) which confirmed that I would need surgery or risk my hand atrophying from muscle deterioration. Thankfully, I had the surgery in time to prevent any muscle atrophy or loss of grip strength, but unfortunately I was left with the numbness and tingling sensation for the rest of my life.

I'm not sharing this story to scare you, and ulnar nerve entrapment and cubital tunnel syndrome do not usually occur out of the blue. In my case, I had started weightlifting at 16 years old and was always using my arms to carry and lift heavy weights. Also, at the time of my injury, I was working out at a Muay Thai gym across the street from my Manhattan apartment about three times a week. If you are unfamiliar with Muay Thai, it is referred to as the "science of eight limbs" or the "art of eight limbs" and involves striking techniques using the hands, feet, knees, and you guessed it...elbows. I was struck routinely in practices, but was never seriously injured... or so I thought.

Cubital tunnel syndrome is not just an athletic injury, it is also the workingman's (and workingwoman's) injury. It can be caused by strenuous and repetitive work activity, and often afflicts people who are engaged in manual labor. Generally, the injured workers that call me with cubital tunnel syndrome are mechanics, construction workers, police officers, firefighters, plumbers, electricians, steel workers, and fitness instructors. But this is not a comprehensive list at all - cubital tunnel syndrome can even be caused by using your computer keyboard too much and always leaning on your elbows!

The most important thing to do when you first notice numbness, weakness or tingling in one or both of your arms is to get medical treatment as quickly as possible. Depending on your symptoms you may need x-rays and/or nerve conduction studies. You may also need to be treated by a hand and wrist surgeon, a neurologist, a pain management specialist, an internist, rheumatologist, occupational therapist, and/or a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist. If your job is the source of the numbness, weakness, or tingling in any part of your hand or arm, make sure to call the Law Office of Jamie S. Adler immediately. Let an attorney who has "first hand" knowledge of this injury help you get the medical treatment you need so you can regain your strength and continue to work the job that you know and love, the job that pays your bills, and the job that supports your family. Never ignore what your body is telling you!

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