January 14, 2011 1:47 PM   Subscribe

My left pinky finger and the outer edge of my left hand are numb and a bit tingly, presumably due to ulnar nerve compression. Safe to wait a few days and see if it goes away, or urgent?

As mentioned in previous AskMe's, I broke my left elbow a few years ago. The ulnar nerve pathway in my elbow was a little messed up and I lost partial sensation in my left pinky finger.

Most days when I wake up, the finger's almost totally numb, but it wakes up in about ten minutes. Yesterday afternoon, I started noticing that the finger was number than usual, somewhat tingly, and cold. A day later, it's less tingly and cold, but still has noticeably less sensation than I'm used to. I don't remember striking the elbow or otherwise insulting the nerve.

You are (probably) not an orthopedic surgeon but the orthopedic surgeon doesn't have an appointment free until February 14. Has anyone had these symptoms for as long as a day and had them resolve spontaneously? Is it safe to wait a few days and see if the nerve goes back to normal? Or could something bad be happening in there that needs to be dealt with before it gets worse? Is there even anything that can be done about this, short of opening up my elbow again?
posted by escabeche to Health & Fitness (9 answers total)
Best answer: Squeeze your pinky nail and check for capillary refill. Should be under two seconds. Have circulation? Good! You won't lose a finger.

Do some standard flexing and stretching of your arm/wrist/hand. If you have tingling after awhile, consider going to a GP if it really worries you. I also know that a lot of orthopedic doc's will have some sort of weekly sports clinic. My old one had one on Saturday afternoon after most of the football games were done.

I wake up with right hand tingly 2-3 days a week. For me it's from sleeping on my arm and from typing way too much all day long. I've had the same effect you are having, the difference is that mine usually comes as a result of cranking my wrist. I usually go with a wrist brace for a few days. In your case, I'd go for an elbow brace.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 1:57 PM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

It could be cubital tunnel syndrome, which is like carpal tunnel only in your elbow instead of your wrist. I have periodic pinky numbness as well. If you have good cap refill, as Mister Fabulous suggested, you should be okay. An elbow brace helps me, as well as not resting any weight on my elbow.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:22 PM on January 14, 2011

fixing to have my left elbow done next Friday. i had this problem for years, I don't see what a few days would hurt....
posted by raildr at 2:54 PM on January 14, 2011

Best answer: I had cubital tunnel corrected a few years ago. I waited a week. It was still numb and I was losing coordination. I went in the next day and the doc put me on steroids for another week with no change. He sent me to an orthopedist who was pretty certain I'd need surgery, and he sent me to a neurologist to get a nerve study done. Cubital tunnel was confirmed and I was into surgery the next week.

I was shocked at the amount of muscle strength and coordination I lost in the month or so my fingers were numb. My hand was even beginning to claw up. Immediately after the surgery I had coordination back, like immediately upon waking up. I got my bandages off two weeks later, was lifting weights again a month later, and was good as new activitywise. It took almost a year for feeling to get back into the tips of my fingers.

Waiting will only make things worse.
posted by sanka at 3:31 PM on January 14, 2011

Best answer: Even assuming the most innocuous thing, these things don't resolve unless you start doing something differently.

I get short periods of numbness when I'm doing too much computer work with bad ergonomics. The answer is a) less computer, and b) more massage and relaxing my muscles, from forearm up to the shoulders and neck (where the nerve root comes from the spine). That's just muscle tightness and easy to resolve with appropriate action.

If you change your action but don't see improvements? Get it looked at!
posted by yeloson at 4:15 PM on January 14, 2011

Best answer: As others mentioned, it sounds like cubital tunnel syndrome, which I have had. I acquired mine after using my forearm crutches incorrectly.

I wouldn't rush to the ER or Urgent Care about it, but I would call your GP's office the next day to make an appointment. I had a minor case that was caught quickly, and mine finally resolved nearly fully after two years by doing stretches, wearing a wrist and elbow brace day and night for a few months (doctor's orders), and getting an ergonomic evaluation at work (I work on the computer all day). I also, when not having to be by a computer, limit my computer use so as to not to exacerbate the condition. If I feel it coming back, I put back on the wrist brace for a week or two. At my current work desk, I have a pad to rest my arm on when mousing, also as an ergo thing.
posted by spinifex23 at 5:16 PM on January 14, 2011

I don't know. I always go to the doctor if something is off.
So I suggest to others to do the same. No reason not to.

I had that problem. My lower left side of the arm and pinky. I still do sometimes. I think it's because I sleep on my left side.
Anyway, I went to the doctor after a week or so because it got really annoying.

He told me it was my ulnar nerve and that it would probably go away. Then he gave me some naproxen-type prescription.
It went away in few days.

In fact, maybe it's just because I'm thinking about it, but my arm/hand kinda feels like that right now.
posted by KogeLiz at 7:40 PM on January 14, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the great answers, guys. I still have my elbow brace from the operation, so I slept in it last night, keeping the arms straight. The finger still feels number than usual, but interestingly I didn't wake up with it completely numb as I do most other days. This suggests that indeed I've been sleeping on the elbow in a bad way.

I'll try to get an appointment at my GP Monday or Tuesday and see where to go from there -- if they think I have to see the surgeon right away, I'll bet they can swing it.
posted by escabeche at 6:54 AM on January 15, 2011

I'd actually suggest saving time and money and just go straight to a neurologist. I had a friend who had some nerve problems and went to a specialist who ended up referring him to a neurologist to get the proper tests.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:14 PM on January 15, 2011

« Older What does this sign mean?   |   Should I see the school psychiatrist? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.