Purpose: Randomized controlled trials have not identified a superior surgical approach to cubital tunnel syndrome surgery. This study evaluates the early morbidity of open in situ decompression and transposition. Methods: This prospective cohort study enrolled 125 adult patients indicated for cubital tunnel surgery at a tertiary institution. Exclusion criteria included preoperative use of narcotics and concurrent elbow procedures. In situ decompressions (n = 47) and ulnar nerve transpositions (n = 78) were performed. Data were collected by independent clinicians at 3 postoperative intervals: 1 to 3 weeks, 4 to 8 weeks, and longer than 8 weeks. Postoperative data quantified surgical morbidity: visual analog scale (0–10) surgical site pain, narcotic consumption, patient-reported disability (Levine-Katz, Patient-Reported Elbow Evaluation [PREE] scores). Olecranon paresthesia and wound complications (hematoma, drainage, infection) were recorded. Results: No preoperative differences in age, sex, or the presence of pain existed between the surgical groups. Surgical site pain was not significantly different at any time. Following transposition, a significantly greater percentage of patients were using narcotics at 4 to 8 weeks after surgery and the average total morphine equivalents consumed per patient was significantly greater. Both Levine-Katz and PREE scores indicated greater disability at 1 to 3 and 4 to 8 weeks after transposition, but this significant difference resolved by final follow-up. Olecranon paresthesias occurred after both procedures but were significantly less frequent at 4 to 8 weeks and longer than 8 weeks after decompression. Twelve hematomas occurred following transposition (15%) with 1 requiring operative debridement and 5 hematomas resolved with nonsurgical treatment after in situ decompression (11%). Conclusions: Ulnar nerve transposition imparts greater surgical morbidity than decompression with greater narcotic consumption, more patient-reported disability up to 8 weeks after surgery, and more persistent olecranon paresthesia. However, most differences in surgical morbidity are transient with resolution after 8 weeks following surgery. Type of study/level of evidence: Therapeutic II.
- Cubital tunnel
- in situ decompression