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Ulnar Nerve Damage

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Spinal Tapper, Dec 28, 2011.

  1. Spinal Tapper

    Spinal Tapper

    Nov 15, 2007
    The past week or two I've been experiencing a numbness in my left hand - specifically my pinky and ring fingers and outside palm have gone almost completely numb. It started with a nasty pain in my outside elbow I noticed while working out my arms in the gym the morning after sleeping on my arm all night.

    I've work in front of a computer all day for the last 5 years, and I sleep on my arms frequently. I guess these are all factors attributing to my condition.

    I've been to my doctor and I'm scheduled to see an orthopedic specialist next week. Im in a serious band, and I have a show tomorrow night (last one for a while though). I'm just going to stick it out and play. There isn't much pain while I'm playing, but not being able to feel my outside fingers on my fretting hand is a pretty weird sensation while rehearsing...hopefully it won't throw me off too much...

    Anyone ever had this? I've read it might even have to come down to surgery if therapy doesn't work, which could put me out of playing bass for quite a while.

    pretty bummed...
  2. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Till you have a correct diagnosis,change what you do. There is no point in continuing with the same routine in life if it does not relieve the problem or situation. So for

    1, practice...do you need to do it or will just stretching and rubbing your hands be good enough and let playiing gigs or shows be your exercise?
    2/ cut out the gym work. again is it neccesary at this time in your life?
    3/try sleeping on your back, if not learn to sleep where your arms are under no pressure.
    4/ take more breaks at work, and change how you work, check that you work area is correct for you in terms of height and how you work. make sure the equipment you are using is ergonomically suited to you.
    5/re-write you bass lines to be fuctional to any song rather than being the correct bass line, you will be surprised how this little change will help. By minimising movement we minimise certain stresses.
    6/ look after your elbow, that's where the ulnar nerve is at an exposed point. Pressure or damage here will give you symptoms that relate to what you are feeling

    just a few things you can try, but till that diagnosis comes in, make sure you change what you do.....because if any of the above does make a difference, then that info will help when used with or to help come to a diagnosis. Sometimes we need to stop and observe what we do in life to really know how it affects us.
  3. LarryO


    Apr 4, 2004
  4. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    Just my $.02 here.

    Check into every holistic treatment you can, do everything in your power to alter the way you're presently doing things, figure out how you can strengthen your problem area, and be very, very cautious when listening to what doctors tell you. I've been diagnosed with all kinds of frightening crap that would have me completely debilitated by now, had I bought into the things doctors told me. 20 years after my problems I'm completely symptom free and stronger than ever. My ailments were different than yours, but my diagnosis had to do with a whole bunch of misaligned stuff, arthritis, and the notion that I'd be in pretty sad shape today if I didn't do something medical. They also told me I had TMJ (which of course added to the problems I was having). I had to learn lots of new ways to live, but, yeah.... rant over. :)
  5. INTP


    Nov 28, 2003
    Dallas, TX
    I have the same problem, but it's pretty well managed at the moment. I use an IMAK elbow support when I sleep. I've had to adjust some habits I had of resting my elbow on armrests, including while driving. I also make it a point to keep my arms straight instead of bending my elbows during rest (I still use my arms...). The cumulative effect of these is enough that it isn't bothering me so much now.

    I've been to a couple of doctors about it, and they agree with my approach so far. While there are surgical options, I would consider surgery to be at the bottom of the list due to potential side effects.

    I would recommend the IMAK, especially while sleeping. It isn't the most comfortable thing, and it may point out some bad sleeping habits, which will affect sleep for a while. But IMHO, it's a whole lot better than the numbness.
  6. I'm guessing maybe your left wrist is bent while playing?

    Learn to play and operate a computer with a straight wrist as close to neutral poition as possible. Neutral is how your hand naturally sits when completely at rest.
  7. henry2513

    henry2513 Supporting Member

    May 9, 2011
    Los Angeles, Ca
    I have the exact same problem, hurt it almost exactly how you did, at the Gym. Luckily I wasn't playing bass back then. It took almost a year to heal although there is still a bit of numbess now and then but it's manageable and doesn't seem to affect my playing at all.
  8. tat2jim


    Sep 13, 2007
    ATL via NYC
  9. Mikalourus


    Dec 19, 2011
    Before you look into.... cubital tunnel, carpal tunnel, tennis/golfers elbow, etc (These are all things that you will come across when you type your symptoms online). Go and see a physiotherapist if possible to assess whether you may have a trapped nerve in your neck.

    I had this exact same problem, after spending some time lifting weights at the gym I started getting pain in my arm/shoulder/wrists & elbow (at the funny bone). My pinky would go numb and would radiate down the palm. I couldn't sleep for the pain.

    After visiting the doctor he told me it was a type of repetitive strain injury. This was NOT the case, after a year of going to the doctor and him repeating this diagnosis, I got myself a physiotherapist who said this was common and there was a trapped nerve in my neck.

    The reason it got trapped was hunching over a computer for several hours a day and having poor general posture.

    After suffering a year with this I was given a simple exercise to do which was: Sitting up completely straight, push your chin in so your head is moving backward horizontally as far as it can go, straining a little (creating a double chin) and hold it for a couple of seconds then release. Repeat this 10 times every hour.

    Obviously your condition could be any of the others which share symptoms, but this won't cause you any harm, until you see a professional at least. This was life changing for me as I was in pain for so long, unfortunately I left it so long that its now a recurring condition, generally comes back when I spend prolonged periods hunched over, but this exercise fixes it.

    Don't read too much on the internet as you will diagnose yourself constantly with different conditions (as I did), go see a professional! Good luck with it.
  10. baileyboy


    Aug 12, 2010

    Joe Nerve is absolutely correct! Be very wary of the medical profession... they are taught to remedy symptoms through drug use. If I listened to every diagnosis and took every medication written for me I'd be in a wheelchair by now. Go to a doctor or two, get the medical perspective, then do your own research.

    One last thing... surgery should always be an absolute last resort, and can never promise the desired result of living pain-free.
  11. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    WOW! some really personal opinions on medical care.
    First off Holisic and alternative medicine, is as much a miss affair as conventional medicine, so by all means consider them in any context that the qualified medical professionals around suggest.

    Conventional medical care offers what we know and understand to work, thats why it is conventional, because it is understood, so it can quantified, where as other treatment cannot. That's how we got to where we are, through the centuries all medicine was holistic , superstitious mumbo jumbo. Then through study, research and understanding what and why things work they became part of the conventional and tha other stuff that could not, well became what we now call alternative medicine.
    As we understand more about these alternative medicines and therapies, the more they will become part of conventional medicine. Acupuncture, meditation, oesteopathy, diet etc are all becoming part of conventional medicine because our understanding of such things is growing.

    But in the end what we need is quantifiable diagnosis, treatment and care, and also a legal pathway to follow if any of it goes wrong. Remember in a court of law if something is not quantifiable then it is not admissable.

    my situation
    ( just a small look into it)

    As someone who has been through all points of what i have stated above, trust me you want to get this right, and quantified info is the way to do it, in the end all decisions will be yours and your only, because if there are any problems then the one fact that open for all to see was "it was your decision and your decision alone". Even if that decision was a no option decision, the fact remains it was your decision.

    As someone who suffered partial paralysis, as the result of a broken neck ( right side weakend, right arm completley lost for three months, and left side weaked) i live and work with its effects on me every day as the nerve damage is now permanant. The medical profesion missed their window of treatment, and to hear that if treated properly there would be no real problems......well thats just one of those things. But i still have faith in conventional medicine even though they were unable to help me this time.
    Yes i do use other approaches to keep myself healthy (because i have studied and have an understanding of such things) and i use treatments and ideas that are considered mumbo jumbo, but they do work for me, because they are for me specific and because i have the time and incentive to make them work....a luxury many do not have in life.

    It is because of my own knowledge and the fact i did not listen to the medical advice around me that i am still able to play and my injuires have not crippled me worse, but that was because i knew they were wrong and it took time to convince them and prove they were wrong.
    That is why the window of treatment was missed, because it took me over nine months to convince them that my neck was the problem, not my shoulder ( as they had diagnosed) and the A+E doctor got it wrong. Once this was proved by MRI and CT scan they then got on the case....but for me to late as the fracture was now healed out of line and compressing the main nerve into my arm. Because it is so close to my spinal cord, the decision to operate on it would be mine...chance losing what i had in order to try and gain some more. So if it goes wrong i maybe paralysed below the neck or if it goes right i may get some more use from my arm and hand....but its my decision.

    But if i refuse this operation then any sort of legal settlement will be compromissed because i am refusing an opportunity to improve my situation and health. So the insurance company lawyers can prove that the level of injury i have is not their complete liability, because i have choosen not improve my situation therefore reduce the amount of compansation their client would be required to settle for. In this situation they could ask for up to 60% of any final settlement to be forfeit.

    Like i said quantifiable info is what you need, but also trust your instincts, but remember the big picture of any decision you make, even the smallest of ones has the potentioal to make a difference.
    I am as well as i can be, and make new ground every week, i am back playing and recording, but cut down on new work and touring, doing more teaching instead, and manage my problems to such an extent that no-one would ever know what i have been through.....but this is me because i have the skill, knowledge and most of all the will to do it.:)
  12. INTP


    Nov 28, 2003
    Dallas, TX
    FWIW, part of my diagnosis involved a neurologist. They did tests of the transmission rates of nerve signals, and there was a definite problem with the nerve at my left elbow. This is not to say that my situation is the same as anyone else's, but rather to say that there are tools available to help make more definitive diagnoses.

    I personally have an aversion to invasive procedures like surgery except where it is clearly needed or where no other options exist. I had a ganglion cyst removed over a decade ago, and during the operation (by a hand surgeon specialist) some nerves were cut and I have permanent loss of sensation in part of my hand. It doesn't necessarily prevent me from doing things, but it is unsettling at times. In retrospect, I wish I'd have just had the thing drained as needed and avoided the surgery.

    Self diagnosis in the age of internet is a tricky thing. There are lots of opinions and information available, but it still requires knowledgeable interpretation. I have a primary care doctor that I can work with as an educated patient, who I consider a partner in my health care. I have one medical condition that I discovered via my own research, and that was not seen in the regular screening. My Dr. ran some additional tests based on my suspicions which confirmed my condition. I strive for a good balance between blind faith in doctors, vs. quackery leading to self-diagnosed hypochondria.

    I wish you well.
  13. TerribleLiar23

    TerribleLiar23 GNSRZRSKNVS Supporting Member

    Oct 11, 2011
    I have severe ulnar nerve damage in both arms, which required surgery on both. Bottom line I was playing within a few days. I'm not going to get into the details unless you want me to. Send me a message if you want a more detailed explanation. If the damage is bad enough, therapy won't do ****.
  14. I had a nerve/electrical/conductivity test that showed a slow-down at the left elbow.

    The doc wanted to do a surgery to physically move the nerve that he ADMITTED up front had a 13% chance of PERMANENT nerve damage.

    I refused on the spot. One of the best decisions of my life.

    I know that my posture and tension of my arm causes the damage.

    Do not go through with surgery. It's a bad idea.

    Tension and dis-ease cause your problem. Relaxing, strengthening your body and becoming more at ease will fix it.

    Look at it this way: Your doctors have a HUGE financial incentive to cut into your body and make gobs of dough.

    They have little to NO incentive in helping you fix yourself.

    I know most folks think their doctors are good people and are only looking out for your well-being. But their methods and procedures are built to make money. Your health is by far a distant second to them earning a comfy living.

    And letting them cut into you is a bell you cannot UN-ring.
  15. +1
  16. grendle


    Mar 4, 2011
    Central FL
    2 good friends had that done, nothing but major problems after. Said they wish they had never done it.
  17. Snarf


    Jan 23, 2005
    Glen Cove, NY
    I have a similar deal going on, it actually completely stopped me from playing for about two months. In my case, my neurologist thinks it's my sleep posture (slept on my arms, with them at terrible angles, stretching the nerve).

    I also did the sitting/standing up straight part for a couple days, and while it helped the nerve, the pain of standing up totally straight (like a normal person does) was bad, as I've got a curved spine that wasn't diagnosed when it normally would be.

    Not sleeping on my arms/keeping them at basically no angle as much as possible helps me in my situation.
  18. Spinal Tapper

    Spinal Tapper

    Nov 15, 2007
    Thanks for the responses, all! Very informative info here. Surgery will be the LAST resort. I still have numbness in my pinky/ring fingers, and at the fatty part of the outside of my palm..it's not showing any signs of getting worse or better, though. Although, I do feel I've lost some strength in my left hand, especially while moving at certain angles.

    Went and got an x-ray yesterday, and I have an appointment with an orthopedic specialist on the 12th. The good news is, I played my show on the 29th without a hitch (we even covered Rush's Tom Sawyer after rehearsing it all week, that bass solo is kinda a bastard, if you know what I mean). But it went well, no cramping, no soreness during the gig at least. I was somewhat sore the next day...

    I also got a new set of V-Drums shipped to my house on Friday and played them pretty much all day. I noticed some extra soreness on Saturday morning. I'm really just wanting to get this feeling back in my hands more than anything...

    I'm kind of nervous about wearing a brace when I sleep, as I'm a "picky" sleeper. I need to be in certain positions to fall asleep...like laying directly on my arms...
  19. henry2513

    henry2513 Supporting Member

    May 9, 2011
    Los Angeles, Ca
    Well that's a problem, I used to do that and it definitely contributed to my flare up, I had to retrain myself to sleep differently.
  20. Baer


    Jul 8, 2008
    A couple years ago I had the problems in my left hand -- twitching, numbness (mostly in the pinky and ring fingers), and cramping. And if I fanned out my fingers out and then tried to pull then all back together, my pinky couldn't do it -- there was a gap between it and the ring finger. There was also visible muscle loss with a couple of the muscles in the hand, quite noticable when comparing it to the right hand.

    Neurolgist diagnosed it as an entrapped ulnar nerve in the left elbow, probably from all the sources listed in previous posts. What happens is scar tissue builds up on the nerve where it rubs against the bones of the elbow, and the electrical transmission is diminished.

    I had the surgery which consists of not only moving the nerve but also scraping the scar tissue off the nerve. There was a big improvement during the year after the surgery, although I cannot say the recovery was 100%.

    I am glad I had the surgery done. I probably would not be playing the bass at this point had I not done that.

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