Soldiers Elbow Their Way Back to Duty

How well do young, active patients recover from elbow surgery to release the ulnar nerve? This is the first study to ask and answer this question.

Twenty active duty members with cubital tunnel syndrome (CuTS) were treated with an operation called the SMUNT. CuTS causes pressure on the ulnar nerve as it passes along the inside edge of the elbow. The result is elbow pain and numbness of the inner arm and hand. Weakness of the hand is also common with CuTS.

SMUNT stands for submuscular ulnar nerve transposition. It involves a long incision to open the side of the elbow closest to the body. Pressure on the ulnar nerve from nearby soft tissues is removed. The nerve is then moved over to the middle on the front side of the elbow.

Each patient was followed for at least 12 months. All patients were given a physical exam and test of function to measure results. Return to work and patient satisfaction were also used to report outcomes.

The authors report that 19 of the 20 soldiers returned to active, strenuous military duty. Everyone had a good result. Grip and pinch strength were better for all soldiers.

Open elbow surgery always has risks. The researchers say that using the SMUNT works well in young, active patients. It's possible after this operation for patients to return to work with high physical demands.

References: Brian T. Fitzgerald, MD, et al. Functional Outcomes in Young, Active Duty, Military Personnel after Submuscular Ulnar Nerve Transposition. In The Journal of Hand Surgery. July 2004. Vol. 29A. No. 4. Pp. 619-624.