Back in August, I started feeling a slight “buzz” in my left elbow. It was similar to the residual feeling you get if you hit your funny bone. At the time, noodling on my electric guitar was part of my routine — late at night while my family is asleep, I’d surf internet and noodle. Sometimes jam to backing tracks on YouTube, unplugged. I was having fun, could easily spend an hour or two doing it.
I have had that kind of sensation in my elbow once before, so I didn’t think much of it and kept playing. But the feeling got more and more persistent. The exact sensation varied from time to time — sometimes it felt like I had ice next to my elbow, other times it had a burning sensation. And the funny feeling would get stronger if I played my guitar — particularly, anything resembling fast, legato-ish stuff. Toward the end of the month I finally admitted that something was off and I researched the net.
All the indications were that I was starting to develop a cubital tunnel syndrome.
Still, I had this once earlier and it went away then. Plus, I had a two-week vacation coming up in September, so I figured I’d take it easy and give my arm a break. I didn’t play the guitar much for 3 weeks. The odd feelings in my elbow remained throughout.
By the time I got back from the vacation, I realized that the three-week break produced little improvements in my elbow. It wasn’t getting worse, but it was not better either. I had to do something about it. As with everything else, my approach to problem-solving is to research, try smaller things I can do on my own, and then seek outside help if that doesn’t work, gradually moving to more drastic or costly solutions.
Long story short, it took longer than I expected but 3 months later my elbow is feeling much better. Apparently cubital tunnel syndromes can go away on its own, but for me, a combination of a few different home remedies really seemed to add up to a reverse in my trend.
Supplements: I try not to take chemical-based medicine if I can help it (again, milder treatments first) so I searched herbal and natural remedies. I learned that ginger and vitamin B6 are great for combatting inflammation of nerves, which is what a cubital tunnel syndrome is. I take one capsule/tablet each daily, with breakfast.
Exercises: I tried a few different stretches/exercises I found on YouTube, and while they all felt good to do them, most of them didn’t really improve the elbow situation. But the video below did make an impression on me. It made sense that the reason why I was having nerve inflammation was because there was a fundamental lack of strength in the related area and I was probably compensating for it by putting strains on my body.
I would have purchased that glove thingy if other remedies wouldn’t work, but again, milder remedies first — so I purchased this from Amazon:
I know it’s a cheesy little thing but I’ve been doing exercises on my left hand with it once a day and it does strengthen guitar-related muscles in my left lower arm. Particularly, I never realized that my lack of hand strength was the reason why I hated playing anything that required stretching my fingers. If you see my hand on any of my videos, it looks like I have a huge hand with long fingers. Indeed I do, and I am grateful for them, but I also realize I have never been able to take advantage of them. I simply hated opening my hand to play licks that require more than one-fret-per-finger distribution.
If your muscles are weak and you’ve never trained them, then getting it to be a bit stronger takes little effort. It’s been only 2-3 weeks with this little device in my daily routine, but I do feel marked improvement in my fretting hand strength. I don’t mind stretching my fingers any more, and I now I have to adjust my fretting strength because on electrics I can push down too strongly.
Keeping My Hand Warm: I’ve always had poor circulation in my limbs (when I was little I had chilblains in my hands and feet) and you know, it gets cold in Minnesota. 😉 At first I got a pad for my elbow but then I spotted this on Amazon:
It’s a pair of ladies’ long gloves. I got a pair and am wearing it all day. It keeps my forearms toasty warm and really made them feel better. I need to order more pairs as they are not exactly durable. I now realize that even in the summer, when we had A/C on and I was walking around in tanktops, my forearms still got cold. But these gloves will let blood flow in my all-important fingers from here on.
Stay hydrated: I’ve made the mistake of not drinking enough water before.
I can’t tell you which remedy is really working and which has made little impact, but together they have made an impact on my elbow. While three weeks of not playing the guitar did little to improve my condition, these remedies made my arm feel so much stronger that now I am back, able to play for hours. I still have some tingling sensation in my elbow if I try to play something fast, but the fragile, unsettling feeling is gone. I intend to keep these good routines up and I am very hopeful that I can continue playing the guitar and stay out of a doctor’s office.
Our bodies are all different, so what worked for me may not work for you. And I am not knocking professional help, I certainly would have sought them if my self-help didn’t help! But I am so happy to report that my home remedies did take effect, so I wanted to share my experience here in hopes that it may be useful to others in similar conditions. Above all, be patient — pushing your body only leads to further injuries, and healing comes slowly in this case (it took me about 3-4 weeks until I felt somewhat normal from the point of recognizing small improvements) because an inflamed nerve just doesn’t regenerate overnight. Tell your body that you really want to play the guitar and that you are fully allowed to play it, and don’t lose hope that you will find a way to make that happen. It may not be these particular remedies that worked for you, but something will work out, and you will unleash yourself onto your instrument again.
13 thoughts on “How This Guitarist Reversed the Onset of a Cubital Tunnel Syndrome with Exercises, Supplements & Ladies’ Gloves”
Thank you very much!
HI Ari, how is your cubital now? still gone? Did you ever have any pain or numbness in your fingers?
My arm’s been great. I wore the forearm gloves again and I’m still taking ginger capsules, and trying to stay hydrated. My elbow hasn’t hurt or tingled this winter at all, and I play daily. When it was bad I had numbness/tingle/burn sensation all the way up the pinky side of my forearm, from elbow to my finger. I never went to the doctor to get formally diagnosed but based on what I read online it really seemed like classic symptoms of cubital tunnel… I’m so happy that it’s been better.
What brand/dose of B6 did you take?
Hi Grant, Thanks for the comment. But I’m sorry, it’s been so long that I don’t remember. I didn’t really continue B6 and my elbow’s been fine, so I don’t think it’s as essential as other pieces (unless you’re totally like malnutritioned or something). I think it’s more important to warm up the arm with massaging (which won’t improve any condition that’s already improved — the point is to just increase blood flow) and stretches, if the condition allows for it do exercises to strengthen the hand. Good luck!
This is a great post. Thank you for sharing! I play violin and I’ve been having similar problems (in my case the compression is in a different nerve – the ulnar nerve). I found some exercises for my condition on Youtube and the doctor prescribed me some suplements (called Etna). It’s getting better, but not 100% fine yet. I’ll try to take ginger suplements and keep my elbow and wrist warm, as I too have problems with cold limbs.
I don’t know why I didn’t respond to your comment sooner. I am so sorry! I believe we are talking about the same thing, the ulnar nerve is the one that gets affected in cubital tunnel syndrome as well. I hope yours gets better soon!
You’re lucky yours healed in 3 months. It took my elbow/forearm/hand nearly a decade to recover. By “recover” I mean that I was able to regain full use of my hand. This means I now have full strength and range of motion, can straighten my fingers and can grip things without risking a severe cramp. I do still get pain and funny sensations (mostly in my hand, fingers and wrist). I am starting to think that this may be as good as it’s going to get. I’m just thankful that my hand is now functional.
I am sorry I didn’t respond to your comment sooner. Indeed I am lucky that it healed, though that was a long 3 months! Have you tried strengthening your arm muscle, now that you have the full range of motion? I believe these conditions occur because of insufficient muscle strength. When you’re having symptoms isn’t the time to work on muscle strength but now that it does have full range of motion maybe it’s appropriate to do that. Good luck!
Hi Ari, do you recall which exercises you performed with the handmaster? I might be getting one as well to help with my condition. The youtube video you linked demonstrates exercises that seem to involve the entire forearm, whereas the handmaster, at a glance, seems to exercise the hand only.
Thanks for the blog post!
The Hand Master will exercise your forearm, not just your hand. Particularly the spreading motion. I discuss it in my video on this subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKID5wpPlvU&t=1s about 5-6 minutes in. And I’m about to make another video/post on this topic, a follow-up to this 4-year old article. It should come out in the next few weeks.
All in all I find Hand Master to be an effective training tool in developing my forearm muscles that prevent relapse. But don’t overdo it if your elbow is hurting now — it’s more a prevention, not a healing tool.
Thanks for sharing , I have been playing and teaching guitar for over 20yrs and all of a sudden I lose control over my pinky and ring finger . Ulner nerve damage ! Did Therapy got the surgery still having issues .I still perform and teach definitely no where near the level I was at before this hit me . Looking for anyway to be able to play the guitar without discomfort !
Curious how you are doing these days. I developed cubital tunnel about 4 years ago. It’s been quite a struggle. I took a year off at one point from guitar. After suppliments and PT and the glove in the video above, I am still searching. Currently working with alexander technique. I also have had trouble with cold hands.