Weird elbow sensation
June 9, 2020 8:32 AM   Subscribe

I've been getting a weird intermittent sensation in my left elbow/arm/hand for the last few months. It doesn't sound exactly like the things I've read about (cubital tunnel/ulnar entrapment/golfer's elbow) but I don't know enough about those conditions to know if what I'm experiencing is a less-common manifestation of one of those issues or something else.

When this happens, it feels as though something semi-solid (like a tendon) on the inside (both the inside of the joint and the side nearest to my torso) of my left elbow is grinding against something else, and the result is a jolt of weird nerve sensation down my arm (sometimes partway down the arm, sometimes all the way to my ring finger on that side) that feels like a line of intense fuzzy tingling running from the elbow down the arm to wherever it stops. This sensation lasts for a couple of seconds after the initial grinding feeling, then it stops abruptly. It's only mildly painful when it happens, but the nerve sensation that accompanies the grinding feels pain-adjacent and it's always startling enough that I notice it/it attracts my attention from whatever I was focusing on before. No other pain in the arm, hand or elbow joint when this thing isn't happening.

When it first started, it was triggered by obvious motions like rolling hard on that elbow while getting out of bed or throwing a punch with that arm without being careful of form (boxercise is my main workout at the moment). It's now starting to be triggered by more innocuous movement - I managed to trigger it in the shower earlier today while not moving my elbow in any way that felt particularly notable.

I have ulnar clawing (or something like that) to some degree on both hands (pinky & ring fingers curl in towards the palm a lot more than my other fingers do, and are harder to fully straighten compared to the other fingers), and it's a little worse in the ring finger on the side where this issue has been happening, but this has been true for most of my life to the point where I'd wondered for a long time if it was some kind of congenital thing. I occasionally get numbness in my hands and arms while sleeping but it's been much better since I was treated for anaemia & B12 deficiency last year. Like many contemporary humans, both my work and the majority of my hobbies are keyboard-based.

Does this sound like anything that folks on the green have experienced? Could it be cubital tunnel/ulnar entrapment or does it sound like something else? If I need help with it, would that be PT or doctor first? Thanks!
posted by terretu to Health & Fitness (5 answers total)
IANAD but speaking from experience: Anything that causes that tingling feeling in the nerve that goes down to your hand and fingers is something that needs to be dealt with. If you don't, eventually the nerve gets damaged to the point where you lose muscle strength. Pinched nerves in the neck, shoulder or elbow can all cause this. If you have insurance that lets you bypass the doctor and go straight to PT, I would do that. Good PTs know the problem better than the doctors and know what to do. If you need to see a doctor first, go to a neurologist or get a referral from you PCP to one.
posted by beagle at 9:01 AM on June 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

I should have mentioned that I'm in the UK so insurance concerns are less relevant - I can either see a GP here (not likely to be super helpful based on previous experience with musculoskeletal stuff) or I can pay to see a PT of my choice.
posted by terretu at 10:17 AM on June 9, 2020

It's worth seeing your GP but, anecdotally, the clinics where I work have seen a real uptick in tennis elbow from the increased amount of bent-arm phone viewing that has resulted from everyone staring at phones while on lockdown. I only know this because I myself fall into this category.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:37 AM on June 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

it could be either neck OR elbow, or both, in my experience: i have ulnar entrapment from an old badly-healed arm break, c-spine stenosis w/impingement, some weird thing where the ulnar and radial nerves have grown together in my forearm, AND recurring tendonitis, all in my left arm. i have moderate use of my left hand now, up from minimal use, after spine surgery, but will not have full use of the hand unless i have more surgery on the elbow. ugh.

depending on the specific cause, PT can help, as can steroid injections, but i bet your best at-home relief will come from adjusting your workspace and habits to be more ergonomically helpful to the issue. being mindful of my arm position/extension at pretty much all times has also been helpful, if incredibly annoying and tiresome.

when a medical problem involves a loss of sensation in a limb, i lean towards recommending a neurologist rather than a GP. from there you can get a PT recommendation if needed. they may send you to a specialist who spends 2 hours carefully zapping you with a medical taser and noting down every time you yelp. it sucks.

when doing PT it is important to stress that you don't just want to end the pain/numbness, you also want to regain as much normal athletic use of the limb as possible.

also as a side note: be cautious of carrying heavy/hot/fragile things in that hand until you get it sorted out, bc the progression you mentioned - having it come out of nowhere while showering - will likely continue.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:42 PM on June 9, 2020

also if you've ever had a fall where you hit your head, or ever been in a car accident, no matter how minor, mention that to the doctor, bc the human neck has a long memory and holds grudges.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:43 PM on June 9, 2020 [5 favorites]

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