How to Treat Cellphone Elbow

Avoid elbow damage and pain when talking on your cell

Cellphone elbow can occur when you bend your elbow too long

Cellphone elbow, also known as cubital tunnel syndrome, is a painful condition caused by bending the elbow for long periods of time, thereby damaging nerves.

The most common symptoms of cellphone elbow are numbness on the inside of the hand as well as the ring and little finger, and pain and muscle weakness in the hand, forearm and elbow.

Repeatedly bending your elbow for long periods of time (such as when you are on the telephone, typing, leaning on your elbows, or pulling, reaching or lifting) can irritate the ulnar nerve, which over time can cause constant strain. In addition, the ulnar nerve runs through a groove in the bone near the inside of the elbow at the site where the muscles and ligaments of the forearm attach. These structures can constrict the irritated nerve.

To diagnose cubital tunnel syndrome, your doctor may (in addition to a physical examination) do a nerve conduction test to measure the speed at which the impulses travel along your nerves and an electromyogram (EMG) to evaluate nerve and muscle function.

Be aware of what you are doing that may be triggering the problem and focus on modifying your actions to minimize stress on your elbows.

Treatment for cubital tunnel syndrome will depend on its severity and may include:

Reducing or eliminating the activity causing the irritation – for cellphone users this may include a recommendation to switch to a hands-free earpiece.
  • Limiting the amount of time you’re doing activities such as pulling, talking on the phone, typing, etc.

  • Taking regular breaks to stretch your arms

  • Wearing an athletic elbow brace or splint to limit movement of your elbow

  • Wearing an elbow pad when leaning on hard surfaces

  • OTC anti-inflammatory medications or acetaminophen.

If elbow pain persists, talk to your doctor. Treatment options can include manual therapy, prescription medications or even surgery.

Originally published in Wellness Matters, Canada Wide Media’s quarterly newsletter on health and wellness.