The authors hypothesized that when the anatomical variant of an anconeus epitrochlearis is present, the risk of developing cubital tunnel syndrome would be reduced by replacing the normal roof of the cubital tunnel (Osborne's ligament) with a more forgiving muscular structure, the anconeus epitrochlearis. The authors further hypothesized that when the presence of an anconeus epitrochlearis contributes to ulnar neuropathy, it would be secondary to muscular hypertrophy, thereby making it more likely to occur in the dominant arm. Therefore, the goal of the present study was to evaluate these hypotheses.
This retrospective cohort study was performed by reviewing the records of all adult patients who underwent operative intervention for cubital tunnel syndrome between 2005 and 2014 as the experimental group and all asymptomatic patients in the medical literature who were part of a series reporting the prevalence of an anconeus epitrochlearis as the control group. The primary outcome of interest was the presence of an anconeus epitrochlearis in asymptomatic individuals versus patients with cubital tunnel syndrome.
During the study period, 168 patients underwent decompression of the ulnar nerve for cubital tunnel syndrome, and an anconeus epitrochlearis was found at surgery in 9 (5.4%) patients. The control group consisted of 634 asymptomatic patients from the medical literature, and an anconeus epitrochlearis was present in 98 (15.5%) of these patients. An anconeus epitrochlearis was present significantly less frequently in the symptomatic patients than in asymptomatic individuals (p < 0.001). Among patients undergoing surgical decompression, an anconeus epitrochlearis was associated with symptoms in the dominant arm (p = 0.037).
The authors found that an anconeus epitrochlearis was present significantly less often in patients with cubital tunnel syndrome than in asymptomatic controls. The mechanism of protection may be that this muscle decreases the rigidity of the entrance into the cubital tunnel. When an anconeus epitrochlearis does contribute to cubital tunnel syndrome, it is significantly more likely to occur in the dominant arm, possibly due to repetitive use and hypertrophy of the anconeus epitrochlearis. The presence of an anconeus epitrochlearis may be protective against the development of cubital tunnel syndrome, although this is a preliminary finding.