For the past several months, I have suffered from a damaged ulnar nerve
in my left arm. I'm recovering slowly as the nerve regenerates, but it's
been long enough that I am no longer impaired by the injury.
My best guess about how the nerve was damaged in the first place is that
it happened when I twisted my elbow because my mother's well-meaning but
dim-witted Golden Retriever puppy jumped on me while I was doing pushups
back in June. I woke up one morning (a few days afterwards) with a mild
tingling in my little finger. The tingling intensified rapidly, and the
finger became numb the next day. The pattern of numbness in the little
finger, outer half of the ring finger, and outside of my palm made it
obvious that the ulnar nerve was affected. When the numbness turned into
stiffness a day later, I sought medical advice.
I don't get along very well with doctors, so "medical advice" meant
speaking to my physiotherapist friend Gautam, who happened to be in town
at the time; but even he advised me to see a doctor. I went to a general
physician, who had me take a blood sugar test to eliminate diabetes as a
possible cause (which it did), and asked me to see a neurologist soon. I
reluctantly went to see one at the nearest hospital a day or two later.
Nerve conduction study
After much poking and prodding, he said more or less what Gautam had
already told me: I had "cubital tunnel syndrome", where the ulnar nerve
was compressed at the elbow. There was nothing for me to do but wait and
rest my arm to avoid making things worse. He also asked me to undergo a
to measure the nerve conduction velocity in the affected nerve.
The test involved zapping various points along my arm with a current and
measuring how long it took for the signal to travel down my arm by means
of conductive pads stuck to my fingers and elsewhere on my hand. My arm
would twitch involuntarily each time a current was applied. As the probe
was applied to different spots on my arm, I could feel different fingers
contracting each time, and I realised the median nerve was being used as
a control to compare the ulnar nerve's responses against. The procedure
had to be repeated a few times, because the pads kept slipping off. It
wasn't pleasant, but wasn't exactly painful either. (The worst part was
that the computer I was hooked up to was running Windows.)
The neurologist barely glanced at the resulting chart (prescribing tests
that the in-hospital labs provide seems to be SOP for doctors consulting
at this hospital), but the test did confirm that the impingement was at
the elbow and not the wrist (which would have been potentially much more
serious), and relatively minor (no ulnar claw for me, thanks!).
The tingling never returned with the same intensity, and over the next
several days, the fingers gradually became less stiff, and a measure of
sensitivity returned to them in the following weeks. I couldn't use my
left hand to type at all for several days. Even when my fingers became
less stiff, folding my elbow to put my hand on the keyboard would make
my arm sore and cause shooting pains after a very short while. I
followed the neurologist's advice and took
(vitamin B12) supplements for a month. I don't know what effect they
had, if any at all.
A few weeks later, things reached the point where I could type for up to
half an hour at a stretch before I needed rest, but it felt awkward and
slow. I did exercises to keep my finger muscles in shape (and grasping
things with a finger that can't quite feel them is a weird experience),
and they seemed to help. Bumping the outside of my hand on the table was
still quite painful, but the numbness was noticeably reduced. After some
initial improvements, however, my hand seemed to reach a steady state,
and I could no longer notice a daily increase in sensitivity.
(I'm told that regenerating nerves grow at 1mm/day, but I don't know if
the ulnar nerve needs to grow from its connection to the spine all the
way to my fingers, or just from my elbow downwards. Either way, that's
a couple of years before I can hope to see any real change.)
Six months later, the affected area still feels a little wooden, but I
have regained the mobility I had lost. There is no consistent pain, and
despite the occasional twinge, typing is no longer a problem.