Ulnar Neuropathy: A Hidden Hazard of Writing

Did you know it’s possible to injure yourself while sitting quietly at a desk, tapping away at your keyboard? Probably not. Until the other day, this idea would have been news to me, too. Then I learned about ulnar neuropathy (compression of the ulnar nerve)…the hard way.

To save you from similar discomfort, I thought I’d share my inadvertent discovery. 


First, a quick anatomical lesson: The ulnar nerve runs from the cervical spine along the inside of the arm, around your elbow, and down to your hand–specifically to your pinky finger and the pinky side of your ring finger. It’s responsible for the sensation in those fingers, and for helping with motor control (particularly in gripping things).

When this nerve becomes compressed (or “pinched”), it can result in numbness, tingling, loss of motor function, and pain. In his article on A Nation in Motion, Dr. John Erickson describes it as being like “the experience of ‘hitting the funny bone’: that painful buzzing, tingling, and numb feeling in the pinky finger when you hit the wrong spot on the inside of your elbow.”  

Compression can happen in a number of places along the nerve, and for a number of reasons. If you’re a cyclist, for instance, the pressure of your hand resting on the handlebars can compress the nerve either just above or just below Guyon’s canal (see image), resulting in what’s commonly referred to as handlebar palsy

If you spend a lot of time at a desk (as do writers and students), the compression frequently occurs at the elbow and is called cubital tunnel syndrome. It’s a direct result of poor posture–or, more specifically, resting your elbow on the desk. (Turns out our mothers and teachers were right about sitting up straight…who knew? 😉 )

The current “pins and needles” sensation and numbness I’m experiencing in my pinky finger (and half–but only half–of my ring finger 😕  ) is most likely a result of cubital tunnel syndrome. Though I suspect that four marathon days of typing on my laptop’s most unergonomic keyboard–with my wrists resting on the edge–may not have helped matters. (Using a laptop now? Pay attention to where your hands are resting.) Whatever the cause, it’s darned annoying, not to mention a little unnerving. (Ha! Bad pun there…couldn’t resist…sorry. 😉 )

The good news is that the condition is usually pretty easy to remedy. An online search turned up a number of exercises designed to get things back on track and prevent recurrences–this YouTube video from chiropractor Dr. Brian Abelson is particularly helpful. I started doing those yesterday and hope to have the feeling back in my pinky soon. Very soon.

And that, my friends, is how you get injured while sitting at a desk. Want to avoid it? Sit up straight, don’t lean on your desk, make sure you use a proper wrist support for your keyboard, and do your ulnar nerve exercises. You’re welcome. 😉

P.S. For another, more serious health hazard related to long periods of sitting at a desk, check out my article on Fighting BIC Syndrome.

P.P.S. Think someone else might benefit from this information? Share using the buttons below!



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6 responses to “Ulnar Neuropathy: A Hidden Hazard of Writing”

  1. Nicole L Avatar

    I know that tingly feeling all too well. Some years ago I whacked my funny bone, but I actually managed to hit a narrow piece of plastic into the groove just inside of the bone where a big nerve cluster is (it involved shooing a cat away from a drink and some poor furniture arrangement). My arm went numb all down the side including the pinky and ring finger. Fortunately my chiropractor was very helpful the next morning, but it took quite a while to feel completely normal again. For months after holding a phone up to my ear with that hand would make my pinky tingle. It didn’t feel that way all the time at least. (I also had a rather unhelpful test for nerve damage).
    Hopefully this will pass quickly for you. I never knew about any exercises to help with it.

    1. Linda Avatar

      I see my chiropractor today, too, Nicole…and in the meantime, Google is my friend. 😉 Also…darned cats. *sigh*

  2. Madelle Morgan Avatar

    Bowen Therapy is the fasted non-invasive, drug-free therapy around for addressing issues related to nerves, inflammation and muscle strain. Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is well known to gamers, office workers, golfers and tennis players, etc. The solution is not as well known, unfortunately. Even chronic cases can improve dramatically within a month (4 sessions) of Bowen Therapy.

    As well, it is important to address the root of the problem, namely the ergonomic set-up.

    Regarding treatment from mild to severe conditions:
    Muscle strain and inflammation: Bowen Therapy
    Severe stretching or mild tearing of ligaments and tendons: Physiotherapy
    Severing tearing or severing of ligaments/tendons: Surgery needed for repair

    Please don’t have surgery for carpal tunnel or other similar conditions until you’ve tried Bowen Therapy and Physio!

    1. Linda Avatar

      Totally agree with this, Madelle, and would add cranio sacral therapy to the list of treatments, too. My cranio therapist is actually a physiotherapist who finds cranio far more effective. And I’m scheduled to see her at the beginning of April. 😉

      This isn’t at all an RSI, however, just a matter of nerve compression due to prolonged pressure due to poor sitting habits. Oops. 😉

  3. Steve Martino Avatar

    Linda, take a look at this brace. It’s the only thing I use for my cubital tunnel. https://www.thelonniebrace.com/index.html

    1. Linda Avatar

      Thanks, Steve — I’ll keep it in mind if I’m not able to achieve relief through my therapists. 🙂

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