What is ulnar nerve decompression at the elbow?

Ulnar Nerve Decompression at the Elbow
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Ulnar nerve decompression surgery: Overview

Ulnar nerve decompression is a surgery to reduce the pressure on a nerve in your arm.

Your doctor will make a cut (incision) along your elbow. Depending on the procedure, your doctor may cut the tissue that is pressing on the nerve. The doctor may also move the nerve or shave off some of the bone on the inner side of the elbow. This lets the nerve pass freely around the elbow without being squeezed.

The incision is closed with stitches. Depending on the type of surgery, your arm may also be placed in a splint or cast.

After surgery, your symptoms should start to go away. But this can take several months.

You will probably go home the same day as the surgery. When you can return to work depends on the type of surgery and the kind of work you do.

How can you care for yourself after ulnar nerve decompression surgery?


  • Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover.
  • Try to walk each day. Start by walking a little more than you did the day before. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk.
  • Allow your arm to heal. Don't push, pull, or lift anything heavy until your doctor says it's okay to do so. This will depend on the type of surgery you had.
  • You may drive when you are fully able to use your arm.


  • You can eat your normal diet. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.


  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. You will also get instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you stopped taking aspirin or some other blood thinner, your doctor will tell you when to start taking it again.
  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, take an over-the-counter medicine such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.

Incision care

  • You will have a dressing over the cut (incision). A dressing helps the incision heal and protects it. Your doctor will tell you how to take care of this.
  • If you had stitches that will need to be removed, your doctor will tell you when to come back to have them taken out.
  • If you have skin glue on the cut (incision), leave it on until it falls off. Skin glue is also called liquid stitches.
  • Keep your bandage dry. If it gets dirty, you may change it.


  • You may need arm and hand rehabilitation. This is a series of exercises you do after your surgery. It helps you get back your arm's and hand's range of motion, strength, and grip. You will work with your doctor and physical or occupational therapist to plan this exercise program. To get the best results, you need to do the exercises correctly and as often and as long as your doctor tells you.

Ice and elevation

  • If your doctor says it's okay, put ice or a cold pack on your elbow for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when you are awake) and then as needed to help with pain. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • Prop up the sore elbow on a pillow when you ice it or anytime you sit or lie down during the next 3 days. Try to keep it above the level of your heart. This will help reduce swelling.


  • You may shower 24 to 48 hours after surgery, if your doctor okays it. Keep your bandage dry by taping a sheet of plastic to cover it. Do not take a bath until the incision heals, or until your doctor tells you it is okay.
  • If you have a splint or cast, keep it dry. If you have a removable splint, your doctor will tell you if you can take it off when you shower. Be careful not to put the splint on too tight.

Other instructions

  • Avoid putting pressure on the sore elbow until your doctor says it's okay to do so.

How do you prepare for ulnar nerve decompression surgery?

Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • You may need to shower or bathe with a special soap the night before and the morning of your surgery. The soap contains chlorhexidine. It reduces the amount of bacteria on your skin that could cause an infection after surgery.
  • Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.
  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your surgery. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the surgery and how soon to do it.
  • If you take a medicine that prevents blood clots, your doctor may tell you to stop taking it before your surgery. Or your doctor may tell you to keep taking it. (These medicines include aspirin and other blood thinners.) Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance directive. If you don’t have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It’s a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure.

After ulnar nerve decompression surgery: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have chest pain, are short of breath, or cough up blood.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have pain that does not get better after you take pain medicine.
  • Your hand is cool or pale or changes color.
  • Your cast or splint feels too tight.
  • You have tingling, weakness, or numbness in your hand or fingers.
  • You are sick to your stomach or can't drink fluids.
  • You have loose stitches, or your incision comes open.
  • You have symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the incision.
    • Pus draining from the incision.
    • A fever.
  • Bright red blood has soaked through the bandage over your incision.

Watch closely for any changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have a problem with your cast or splint.
  • You do not get better as expected.

After ulnar nerve decompression surgery: Overview

You had surgery to relieve pressure on a nerve in your arm. A cut (incision) was made along your elbow. Depending on the type of surgery, your doctor might have cut the tissue that was pressing on the nerve. Or your doctor might have moved the nerve or shaved off some of the bone on the inner side of the elbow.

Your arm will hurt and may feel weak with some numbness. Pain usually goes away in a few days. But weakness and numbness may last a few months. Your doctor may remove the large bandage or may tell you when and how to remove it yourself. In some cases, you may have a splint or cast. If you have one, you may need to wear it for 2 weeks or more.

If your stitches need to be removed, your doctor will take them out in about 2 weeks.

When you can return to work depends on the type of surgery you had, whether it was on the arm you use most, and the type of work you do.

What happens on the day of ulnar nerve decompression surgery?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your surgery may be canceled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, take them with only a sip of water.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions about when to bathe or shower before your surgery. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
  • Do not shave the surgical site yourself.
  • Take off all jewelry and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.

At the hospital or surgery center

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • The area for surgery is often marked to make sure there are no errors.
  • You will be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. You may be asleep during the surgery. Or you may get medicine that relaxes you. If you are not fully asleep, the area being worked on will be numb.
  • The surgery can take up to an hour.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.