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Ulnar Nerve

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I have a problem with my ulnar nerve at my elbow (commonly known asthe funny bone) that I would like to identify and see if there isinformation on therapies to help. The problem is this: When I flexmy arms when I am pushing against something, such as doing dips,bench press or OHP or lifting something over my head, my ulnar nerve pops outof the groove it runs through in my elbow joint. It then pops backinto the groove when my arms are near full extension. It happensanytime I exert a moderate amount of force trying to extend my arms(as in the activities mentioned above) when my arm is bent about 80degrees or more. In other words, the more my arms are bent, the more easily it happens, and it does not matter if my arms are moving awayfrom my body or towards my body, as long as I am exerting forceoutward. Sometimes it even happens when I am curling my arm (flexingmy biceps), though not often. This condition severely limits whatupper body exercises I can do. I cannot do any pushups or bench pressexercises unless I do very low weight, keep my hands spread wide sothat my arms are not bent very much, and do not do very many reps. This means it is nearly impossible to exercise my triceps,shoulders and chest. If I try to exercise and ignore the nerve going in and out of the groove, itquickly irritates the nerve, and I have been told that it could cause permanent damage if I were to do this regularly.

Would appreciate any help

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Hello Marcus. Ulnar nerve problems is something I've dealt with a lot.

A few questions:

* Which elbow is it? I'm assuming it's just one, not both

* Have you ever experienced any trauma on the elbow i.e. landed on it?

* Do you get any pain, numbness, pins-and-needles or weakness in the hand - especially those two fingers? Are you in pain?

Your ulnar nerve starts up around your neck, travels past your shoulder, through your elbow, wrist and ends in little fingers. Note that in your arm you also have the median and radial nerves, both of which presents themselves differently. See this and this.



With the ulnar nerve, there are a few possible problems:

* ulnar nerve compression within the cubital tunnel (in the elbow)

* ulnar nerve subluxation or dislocation

* snapping triceps syndrome

In my case, I've been fighting with compression. I'd get loss of feeling/pins and needles. I also experienced muscle pain around elbow. I had very similar problems - couldn't do push ups, chins, even squat after a while! I remember being in pain pushing my daughter on the swing. In hindsight, I feel this was mostly caused by going a bit too low on the low bar squats. I wasn't sitting the bar on 'the shelf', bar moved on heavy weights, etc. My left elbow took the brunt of it.

There was no magical cure in my case, all took time and it's still there mildly. Things that helped included:

* Sleeping with my elbow straight and on my back. With the elbow, I would sometimes wrap a pillow around it, strap it together with an old belt. It's like a splint

* Behavioural changes - namely getting away from the computer. My elbows are often bent for long periods of time and I have this bad habit of resting my elbow on my desk (i.e. elbow on desk, chin in palm of hand). So no Skyrim for me!

* Addressing form issues on exercises

* Mobility work, foam rolling, trigger point therapy. All helped somewhat

* Do something completely different. I switched to kettlebells for a while.

* Time away from lifting. This is what ultimately helped the most. Even short periods of time away helps. At one point I stopped lifting altogether for many months (numerous reasons - primarily because of lack of time and lack of sleep due to baby) and in the end my elbow cleared up.

In your case, I suspect it's either a case of subluxation/dislocation or snapping tricep syndrome. Unfortunately, I'm not as familiar with these. See this as a starting point. Note that surgery is often mentioned as the cure for serious cases.

Looking at your stats: why is your press (bench?) higher than your squat? It's also about the same as your deadlift. Have you been doing any split work or exercises specifically targetting certain muscles in your arms/shoulders such as curls or heavy tricep work? I can't help but think that is the case, by looking at your picture and reading your stats.

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It’s actually both elbows. It all started when one of the PT’s in my gym suggested taking a slightly narrower grip on bench. Ever since then it has been clicking on any pressing movement.

I know I have banged my left elbow pretty hard about 11-12 years ago, but it’s both elbows so that is probably not it. The outer part of my left elbow actually hurts too but only slightly though. Also while doing Rows a few weeks ago my left shoulder felt like it had popped out. My shoulder keeps clicking even when I am not in the gym.

Sometimes when I do OHP I get a shooting pain (like an electric shock) down my arm, the side where the Ulnar nerve is. And a couple of time my neck feels like something has popped in it.

I am going to be finishing these next 3 weeks of training and then I will be taking 2-3 weeks off.

As to my stats, the reason why bench was more is because I injured my back and had to deload on Squats and Deadlifts. So my Bench was over taking my Deadlifts and Squats. And I haven’t updated them in a while.

I was doing a 6 day split until 8 months ago then I started doing 5x5. So all I have been doing is all the big movements and then weighed chins and weighted dips.

The Dr said that they can operate but they won’t operate on me. I am going to see my physio on Saturday and see what he says, I’m also going to keep going back to the Drs until they sort it out

Thanks for your help

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I feel for you, having it in both arms! I've got it pretty bad at the moment in my left arm. I can feel it from my neck, through my shoulder, elbow and in finger.

All the physios, doctors, etc have all been pretty useless in my case.

I just remembered something that may help. A quote from old Stronglifts log

I was talking to a friend who recommended visiting an Osteopath, as they might be able to help with this ulnar nerve pain I've been experiencing. If I went back to my GP I'm sure I'd be told to just rest and/or take some drugs. I also suspect there is a link between this, historical elbow pain and the case of bursitis I had.

I've never been to an Osteopath. I was afraid it was new-age hogwash but went in with an open mind. It was surprisingly good. He was able identify the source of the impingement: my neck. I believe he called it first rib syndrome. I think this is it. A bit of acupuncture and a small amount of "manual manipulation" (what chiropractors do) and I'm feeling better. Surprising. He also gave me a simple exercise to do, in order to stretch one of the muscles in my neck.

Apparently this is quite common. Mix of different causes: trauma, bad posture (esp for those with desk jobs) or sleeping out of alignment (if you're on your side, the spine - from your skull to your tailbone - should be parallel with your bed). He also mentioned it's worse on my left. Anyway, I've come away with a few action items

1) Do the neck stretch 7-8 a day on my left side

2) Get better pillows. I primarily sleep on my side and my pills are pretty flat

3) I have a dual-monitor PC. I've realized I spend 90% of my time staring at my left PC, so my head is always tilted left. I'll move then so the left monitor is in the middle

It's another potential option to try - one that doesn't involve drugs or surgery.

Hope you get better soon. Let me know how it works out.

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Well lets see what the physio can do. I will let you know


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Hi Marcus, just read your story and have had a similar experience in the last 24 months. I got the snapping or displacement of the nerve at the eblow in my left arm first. I began to get pain in the ring and little finger, thinking i had hurt my wrist. It wasn't until after 12 months the doctor identified my ulnar nerve was popping in and out of its groove when i bent my elbow. It got to the point where it would just pop out and roll over the bone every time i bent my arm. I had scans etc and it was decided i would have an ulnar nerve transpostion (surgery) which removed the nerve from the groove and placed it in below the skin on the front of my arm. After the surgery i rushed into too much physio and believe the nerve had 'moved' from where the dr had put it. The Dr operated again to have a look, and said it was still where he put it. (Im sceptical)

Shortly after having the surgery, I felt my right arm 'snap' at the elbow when working behind a bar one night lifting a beer over a set of beer taps. The snap i felt was the 'sheeth of tissue that keeps the ulnar nerve in place at the elbow. Once this snaps, the ulnar nerve virtually floats at the groove. So basically I am at the same point with my right arm now, most probably going to require surgery as the arm is becoming useless. I can't do bicep curls real well, push-up are out of the question and most exercises have to be done catiously. It is such a wierd injury that I have trouble to cope with both physically, mentally and emotionally.

The surgery I had done on my left arm about 8 months ago isn't a miracle answer either, the arm will never be the same and i wont be able to be 'care-free' with it. I have lost significant grip strength in it, which in turn effects most arms exercises/movements. I do a number of streches on it daily to stretch the ulnar nerve.

I believe my problems came about from bike crashes, downhill mountain bike racing, a lack of all round general strength and fitness, hitting the gym and doing all excercises except for bicep curls (I didnt want huge biceps, stupid now), leaning on my arms/elbows everytime i sat down. I do however remember the specific momentt of the 'snap' of the ulnar nerve when i did my right arm.

Just wondering how your issue went? And where you're at with it now... :)

Cheers, Max.

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I've had something similar and just laying off the bench for a month did wonders for me.

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