What a shock! One day I looked at my right hand and noticed that it just didn’t look right. I was surprised to find that the muscle between my index finger and thumb was gone. My hand no longer had that healthy meaty look of a normal hand.
Hand Muscle Wasting & Weakness from a Pinched Ulnar Nerve
It’s Permanent Damage!
Pinched Ulnar Nerve Caused Muscle Atrophy In My Hand
I have muscle atrophy and weakness in my hand and fingers from a pinched ulnar nerve. It’s permanent damage. I think I damaged my ulnar nerve while resting my arm on the arm rest of my chair at work.
Shortly after having surgery I developed a weakness in my right hand. I first noticed it during my normal exercise routine which included a limited number of finger tip pushups. Following surgery, I could no longer do finger tip pushups nor could I even hold myself up in that position. I first attributed this weakness due to my recovery period following surgery. I was wrong.
Muscle Atrophy Pictures
Pictures show loss of fleshy muscle mass between the thumb and forefinger. Spread fingers cannot be closed. Bent little finger. All caused by a pinched or damaged ulnar nerve in the arm. Compare normal left hand with damaged right hand in the picture above.
Problem With My Hand & Fingers
I quickly recovered from my surgery and my muscles quickly regained their strength, that is, all of them except my hand and fingers of my right hand.
At a follow-up meeting with my plastic surgeon, I mentioned that I had a problem with my right hand and fingers. I explained about not being able to do the pushups, that I had occasional numbness, that my right hand and fingers were weak and I pointed out the loss of muscle between my thumb and forefinger. He then examined my fingers, hands, arms and my neck area.
I asked him if this could be related to my tummy tuck plastic surgery. He indicated that it was not, but maybe it was nerve or neck related. He provided me with the name of a neurologist (a neurologist is a medical doctor who specializes in neurology. A neurologist is trained to investigate, diagnose and treat nerve conditions or neurological disorders. Neurology is the medical field involving the study of the human nervous system including the nerves, brain, spinal chord and muscles) and recommended that I make an appointment.
I made an appointment with the neurologist the very next day and I prepared the following “talk sheet” to bring with me.
My Ulnar Nerve “Talking Sheet”
Right Hand Symptoms
- Weakness in fingers (in particular the pinky and the adjacent finger).
- Sideways motion of fingers is difficult. Hard to close fingers, as in a salute.
- Small finger is bent.
- The fleshy area of the hand between the thumb and the first finger is “sunken” and appears to have lost some of it’s “meat” or muscle when compared to the left hand.
- Finger tips get cold easily as compared to left hand.
- Cannot “push” with small finger at all. Pushing capability with other fingers is diminished.
It Became Hard To
- Unlock car door with key.
- Write name with pen.
- Use tweezers.
Neck & Hand History
- I am right handed and probably for the last 10 years or so my right hand strength has been strong but not as strong as my left hand.
- I work on the computer and use a mouse in my right hand. For the past couple of years I have been wearing a wrist band to alleviate pressure on my wrist.
- I lift 25 lb. dumbbells daily in each hand, so I still have some “gripping power” of my fingers.
- For about the last 20 years or more I have had occasional difficulty turning head to left (stiff neck/shoulder).
- I can only sleep on my left side. If I lay on my right side for more than 3 minutes my neck/shoulder bothers me.
- 20 years ago when I worked bent over a drafting board, I would frequently get migraine headaches and a stiff neck.
- I “crack my neck” frequently. I have been cracking it for as long as I remember.
- When I was in college I was in a car accident that may have contributed to my neck problems.
My Visit with the Neurologist
My initial consultation with the neurologist (March 25, 2008) consisted of a basic examination. I took off my shirt and he examined my upper body and made me perform several motions, including holding my arms out, moving my arms and neck, manipulating my fingers and having me grip his fingers to test my hand strength. It was a brief examination. He then scheduled me for three diagnostic tests to pinpoint my problem. These included an EMG (EMG stands for Electromyography. Electromyography is a medical test performed by specialized doctors called neurologists. Electromyography checks the electrical activity and health of the muscles and the nerves that control the muscles. To perform the EMG the neurologist or health care provider will insert a very thin needle electrode through the skin into and into the muscle. The electrode monitors and records the electrical activity associated with the muscle. A NCV (nerve conduction velocity) test is usually performed at the same time as an EMG), X-rays and an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging).
I had the X-rays taken at a local clinic. After putting on a lead apron, the technician took x-rays of my neck and shoulder areas while standing up.
To have the MRI performed, I had to go to a different facility. I had to remove my clothing down to my underwear and don a surgical gown. I was led to the room where the MRI machine was located and was instructed to sit upon the sliding table. The technician briefed me on the upcoming process and told me what to expect. I laid down on the table and the technician left the room. It was just like you would see on television. The sliding table transferred my body into the MRI machine. I was told to lie very still and not move at all. I was also told not to swallow if I could help it. The MRI began to make noises, some of which were quite loud and annoying. After several minutes it was over. The hardest part of the whole thing was trying not to swallow.
For the EMG I had to return for a second visit to the neurologist’s office. The EMG test is how they tested the condition of the nerves in my arm from my shoulder down to my fingers. They did this by sending a jolt of electricity from one point to another along my body and measuring and recording the electrical conductivity. The only problem with this test is that they stick a needle into your body “down to the nerve” selected to be tested. When the electricity is turned on, you feel an electrical shock. Some of the shocks were relatively painless. Some of them hurt a lot. It was similar to touching an electric fence. Overall, this was not a very enjoyable medical test procedure.
After all the testing was completed, I was called for another meeting with the neurologist to discuss the results. When he entered the room I noticed that he was not smiling.
NEUROLOGIST TOLD ME I HAD THREE PROBLEMS
- My first problem was that I probably had carpal tunnel syndrome.
- My second problem was that I probably had a pinched or damaged nerve in my arm.
- The third and most serious a problem was that the MRI indicated that I had four bad disks (bulging discs) in my neck. He indicated that I might need surgery to fuse the disks and recommended that I make an appointment with a neurosurgeon to discuss the matter further.
I noted to myself that he used the word “probably” a lot. He could not give me definitive answers as to what was the exact cause of the weakness and atrophy of the muscles in my hand and fingers.
Consultation with the Neurosurgeon
The thought of surgery on my neck scared me a little and I quickly made an appointment with a neurosurgeon in my area (after checking out his credentials). I was told to bring a copy of the MRI results with me.
At my initial consultation, the neurosurgeon reviewed the MRI results and performed his own examination of my hands, arms, shoulders and neck. He confirmed that I had four bulging discs in my neck which required an operation to correct. He then described the specific operation needed to fix this.
I asked him how quickly he thought I might need the operation. He could not give me a definitive answer and said that for my neck to get in that condition it might have taken a lifetime. It takes years and years, in some cases, for disks to bulge and go bad as in my case. It was up to me and how I felt to determine when I needed the operation.
He also could not tell me the exact cause of the problem with my hand and fingers but he thought that the most likely cause was a pinched ulnar nerve in my arm. I got the impression he was guessing, but it was an educated guess of a neurosurgeon.
Thinking back, I did remember many times sitting in my chair at the computer and having my right arm tingle. It always rested upon the armrest of my chair at the same location. I would often have to move my arm and flex it into a few times for the tingling to go way. It didn’t occur to me then but I was probably pinching the ulnar nerve at the time and causing the damage. It makes sense. I now take great caution where I place my arm.
I still have the problem with bulging disks in my neck but I am trying to postpone neck surgery for his long as possible.
Muscle Atrophy Conclusion
I now believe that my problems with my fingers and my loss of muscle in my hand was caused by pinching the ulnar nerve in my right arm by resting my arm repeatedly against an armrest. To prevent further injury I use great care whenever I rest my arm.
I am told that whenever muscles atrophy, they never come back, no matter what you do. The most I can do is to strengthen the remaining muscles that I have in my hand and to prevent further damage.
To try to regain some of the strength and dexterity in my hand and fingers and to delay the inevitable neck operation, I eat only nutritional foods and do daily exercises and stretches, paying particular attention to my hands, shoulder and neck areas.
I believe (but I don’t know for sure) that this is helping me as I have had no more tingling sensations of my arms or fingers now.
UPDATE – Did My Atrophied Muscles Grow Back?
I have received a number of requests asking how my hand is today and what exercises I do and nutritional foods I eat to try to keep my hand (and my ulnar nerve) in good condition. This is my condition and status as of February 15, 2012, about 4 years after my ulnar nerve damage and muscle wasting.
Current Condition Of My Nerve Damaged Hand & Fingers
Overall, my hand is “almost normal” and is functional with limitations. The physical appearance of my hand hasn’t changed. It doesn’t look any worse or any better. It still looks the same as it did in the above photographs “My Hand 3 Years After”. The loss of muscle in my hand has never come back but is not normally noticeable unless you look for it.
The function and dexterity of my hand is very good. It functions normally with the exception that my fingers still gets cold quickly when the temperature drops, my writing ability is “slow” and my key turning ability is not as good as my left hand (but still do-able). Overall my hand is not normal, but it’s not bad. My grip strength is very good.
Exercises For My Nerve Damaged Hand And Neck Problems
Exercises First Thing In The Morning
15 minutes of stretches in the morning with a cup of coffee wakes me up and gets the kinks out. I do general stretches including arm circles, neck rotations, knee bends, waist twists, waist bends and bending over to a finger-tip pushup position (for a few minutes) to put pressure on and stretch my fingers.
Throughout The Day
Throughout the day, whenever I can, I do the following exercises.
- Occasional stretching (pushing, pulling & stretching) of my neck, fingers, hands and shoulders.
- Occasion use of a hand strengthener.
- I pick up and use two 15 lb. dumbbells for a few minutes at a time throughout the day. I leave them in a convenient and noticeable location so that they are a reminder for me to use them.
I try to do a minimum of 30-60 minutes of exercises each day including the use of dumbbells. I try to keep it simple and easy so I will enjoy it and not make it into a chore. If it is hard and not enjoyably I will quickly stop doing it. I exercise to music. My afternoon exercise usually include.
- 20 minutes minimum of dumbbell use. Dumbbells will not only strengthen the arm but the hand and fingers as well.
- I get into the finger-tip pushup position (or as close as I can come to it with weakened fingers) and try to maintain it for as long as I can to increase my finger strength.
- Arm twirls, body twists, body bends, neck turns, neck/head pulling and any other motions that I can do at the time that affects my neck, shoulders, arms, hands and finger.
I still eat the same food that I have for the last five years. I eat only the following healthy foods (well almost only). Fish (salmon and tuna), skinless chicken breast, broccoli, egg beaters with tofu omelet, onions, salad, carrots, fat free Jell-O, coffee with Coffee mate, fat free or low fat yogurt, oatmeal (lots of oatmeal) with vanilla flavored protein powder, grapefruit, apples, lentils. I don’t eat any fast food or junk food. I don’t drink, except for the occasional wine at holidays.
Supplements & Vitamins
On a daily basis, I take a baby aspirin (Ecotrin) and a multi-vitamin. I used to take Glucosamine to keep arthritis at bay, but I have cut back on that, mostly due to the high price.
- When I work at the computer I wear a wrist band on my hand as extra protection.
- I don’t let my forearm and elbow area rest or rub against any hard surface such as a desk top or table to prevent further damage to the ulnar nerve.
- I do morning stretches each day for about 15 minutes. I concentrate on my hand, fingers, neck and shoulders in particular.
- I exercise daily in the afternoon (most days) for 30-45 minutes.
- When I watch TV or at other times during the day I stretch, pull and twist on my hand and fingers and neck.
- I only sleep on my left side (mostly due to my neck problems). I would never sleep on my ulnar nerve damaged arm and I would try not to bend it while sleeping.
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