If you’ve ever hit your elbow and felt a tingling pain sensation, you’ve likely hit the funny bone. Although to be clear, the funny bone isn’t as much a bone, as it is actually a set of elbow nerves called the ulnar nerve.
But why does hitting it produce such a weird and unusual sensation? Well, that funny feeling that you get when you hit the funny bone nerve is very easy to explain, and the nerve plays a vital role in helping us function in our everyday lives.
So, in this article, we’ll explore what is the funny bone, its function, reasons for elbow nerve pain, and how to identify if there is a more severe problem that needs to be dealt with.
Ready to get started? Then read on below.
The Medical Definition and “Parts” of the Funny Bone
As mentioned before, the funny bone isn’t actually a bone at all but is instead the ulnar nerve, which runs from the neck to the hand and innervates several muscle groups along the way.
The funny bone real name history isn’t entirely clear – some say that it was named because of the humerus bone (since it’s a play on words with humorous), while others attribute the funny bone name to the fact that hitting it causes a funny sensation.
The ulnar nerve starts at the brachial plexus and then descends the medial aspect of the upper arm, passing behind the humerus, and branches out to provide vital functions that allow us to control our hands and arms.
Most of our hand muscles are innervated by the ulnar nerve, which means that without it, we wouldn’t be able to use our hands as we do right now.
As you can see, the ulnar nerve distribution in the hand helps to explain why we feel such an intense and funny sensation when hitting it – since the nerve branches are so extensive, hitting it creates an overwhelming sensation that reverberates all around our arms, centering around the elbow.
The Function of the Funny Bone
Now that we’ve gained a better understanding of what the funny bone is and talked about the parts of the ulna, we can now talk about its primary functions.
As you have probably surmised by now, our funny bones are a complicated system of nerves that go from our shoulder to the very tip of our little finger. That means that it’s responsible for a range of delicate functions that allow us to carry out complex daily tasks. In fact, the funny bone is often referred to as the “musician’s nerve,” since it allows humans to play musical instruments with delicate movements which require impeccable precision.
And since the ulnar nerve connects so many of the muscles, it allows us to not only complete delicate tasks but also lift and carry objects.
Why It Hurts So Much When You Hit Your “Funny Bone”
We’ve figured out what the funny bone is, how it works, and the vital functions that it serves during our daily lives.
Now, we must answer the question that’s probably already on your mind – why does it hurt so much to hit the ulnar nerve?
Well, the truth is that it’s not as easy to hit the ulnar nerve as it may sometimes seem. In fact, for the most part, the nerve is protected from direct hits by ligaments, muscles, and bones that are in our arms and hands.
However, there is one place where the nerve doesn’t have as much protection from any muscle or elbow bone and is therefore exposed to potential impact from the outside.
Namely, in the cubital canal, the funny bone is only protected by skin and sometimes a thin layer of fat, which means that any stronger bump to the area can cause severe funny bone pain and the weird sensation that we all know.
When you’re hitting your funny bone, what’s actually happening is that the nerve gets compressed against the bone, which causes numbness, and a tingling sensation because of the pinched nerve in the elbow.
Serious Ulnar Nerve Conditions
In most cases of a pinched ulnar nerve, the pain usually subsides once you change your position or a bit of time passes after you hit it.
But there are more serious ulnar nerve conditions that may require medical attention in order for them to resolve.
One example of issues is persistent numbness and tingling in the hands and fingers – that can point to cubital tunnel syndrome, which is a condition in which the ulnar nerve gets compressed behind the elbow and can reduce the function of the hand.
In fact, in some instances, when the condition causes muscle weakness and even pain, surgery may be required to repair the damage and restore the hand’s normal function.
Sometimes, the nerve constriction may happen in other areas, such as beneath the collarbone or somewhere near the wrist area. These instances are rarer, however, but when they do happen, surgical intervention may also be required.
Still, often, ulnar nerve pain relief can be achieved with changes in activities or bracing, although the situation should always be monitored by a medical professional. You need to take ulnar nerve symptoms seriously, especially if you notice that the condition is worsening, as otherwise, you could end up causing permanent damage to the nerves.
If you have a persistent problem with your funny bone that doesn’t go away on its own, it’s best to consult an experienced surgeon who can help determine the cause and suggest the best course of action. Dr. Daniel Schwartz has been helping people in the Seattle area and beyond deal with a range of shoulder and elbow issues, so if you want to figure out how to solve your issue, call and set up an appointment today!