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When You Hit Your Funny Bone, It’s Not Funny!

If you’re like me, you’ve hit your funny bone more than a few times in your life. It happens when you bang the inside part of your elbow on the edge of a table or other hard object. Pain and tingling shoot into your hand and sometimes it causes numbness that takes a while to go away.


left elbow flexed

Flexing the elbow compresses the ulnar nerve

What is the funny bone?

The funny bone is not a bone – it’s a nerve called the ulnar nerve, which travels on the back side of your arm (where your triceps muscle is) and around the inner part of the elbow into your forearm.

The nerve is mostly unprotected where it lays in a groove between the ulna and humerus bones. It comes out of muscle, rests right on bone, then goes back underneath muscle.

The ulnar nerve supplies the pinkie and ring fingers with nerve fibers – sensation and muscle function. When you hit your funny bone, you’ll feel tingling in these two fingers.

Testing the funny bone

Hand surgeons and orthopaedic specialists test the ulnar nerve for problems by tapping on the nerve. If you have tingling when tapping on your funny bone, it’s a signal of nerve sensitivity. This may come and go, and isn’t necessarily an alarming thing.

When you spread your fingers apart – you’re testing the ulnar nerve!

Cubital tunnel syndrome – a pinched nerve problem

As the ulnar nerve passes from the back side of the arm into the forearm, it takes a sharp turn around the humerus bone. It’s covered by a strong layer of tissue called fascia.

When you bend or flex your elbow (when talking on the phone for example), this increases pressure on the ulnar nerve, which can cause a numbness or tingling sensation in the hand or forearm. Straightening the elbow usually relieves it.

Persistent numbness is not a good sign, and sometimes surgery is necessary to relieve the pressure on the nerve and restore hand function and sensation. Read more about cubital tunnel syndrome.

If you hit your funny bone harder than usual

If you hit your funny bone especially hard, it can cause enough bruising and swelling to compress and pinch the nerve. If the numbness lasts more than a few days, see a hand or orthopaedic doctor.

Usually treatment of a nerve bruise involves keeping a close eye on your hand function and not ignoring your symptoms. This kind of nerve injury usually recovers on its own but splinting and therapy may help.

The not so funny bone

Nerves branch out from the spine to other body parts like hundreds of tree branches. The tiniest branches are in the pinkie fingertip – those nerve fibers come from the larger trunk of the ulnar nerve.

Even though hitting your funny bone isn’t a joking matter, at least next time you’ll appreciate its purpose and function a little more.

21 comments to When You Hit Your Funny Bone, It’s Not Funny!

  • my elbow keeps feeling like i hit my funny bone but i didnt and its being going on for 2 days non stop

  • tricia

    I have been having the same thing. I have been going to several doctors no help..let me know whats going on.

  • David

    I hit my funny bone at my friends b-day,I hit it while I jumped off of a low platform but I hit it on on the platform.Now when ever I hit again it burns my hand for about a minute and I want it to stop.I also want to know if it is a big problem.

  • Sometimes trauma (hitting the nerve) can cause bleeding and irritation around the nerve for a few weeks afterwards.

    If it’s not calming down, see a hand surgeon for advice. You may need a nerve test or just give it more time.

  • Wilber

    I was at school at I was talking to my friend and I turn around and my elbow hit the chair and a tingling sensation travel across my arm in under a second but the pain didn’t stay for more than 3 seconds.

  • Ashley

    Everytime i set my elbow on someting gently my wrist and hand go completely numb and it feels like I’m getting shocked. Even if i slightly touch it goes numb. Its around the funny bone area. Is this a problem?

  • Ashley:

    This sounds like an irritated or pinched ulnar nerve. Please see a hand surgeon if the symptoms continue.

  • Fred

    i hit my elbow on a door and it really hurt. i have some bruising coming out around and my arm is really bugging me…(i can move it just fine but it hurts) is it anything to worry about or should i just ignore it and hope it gets better??

  • kara

    Is it normal to feel Bicep pain for a couple days(So far) when getting the ulnar nerve too hard?

  • I hit my ulnar nerve very hard bringing my arm in a downward mition. It has been 2 days and my involved fingers tingle when not in contact with anything. If I lie my elbow on anything even very lightly it is as if I just did the injury again. Should I give it a few days or go right into the hand specialist?

  • Amy

    My husband was hit in the elbow by a baseball 3 days ago. He continues to have weakness and numbness in his 4 th and 5 th digits. He still has some swelling, but it has decreased. Elbow ROM is within normal limits. He is taking NSAIDs and icing a couple times a day. Should he see a Dr or give it a couple more days.

  • I hit my funny bone and about 5 mins later my pinky went totaly numb.. then it traveled through all of my fingers, my hand, my right shoulder, up to the right side of my face, back to my shoulder, down the right side of my back, back of right cheek and finally down my leg. Please tell me if I need to have it looked at?

  • Fred:

    No way to tell without examining you.

    See a doctor you trust to find out if it’s something ominous.

  • kara:

    Sometimes pain can radiate up and down the arm, which you could feel in your bicep. Should be getting better quickly, though.

  • Tracy:

    Usually this will calm down rapidly. Sometimes a good hand specialist won’t do anything invasive but can send you to a good hand/arm therapist for some education, treatment, and even a short term splint to calm things down.

  • Amy:

    I’d see someone sooner rather than later.

    Hand surgeons treat elbows and nerve problems like this.

  • Kelly:

    Wow.

    I would have it looked at.

  • Shelly

    I’ve had good luck having my Chiropractor adjust my elbow when I notice non-injury related ulnar nerve sensitivity. Just a little FYI.

  • Sam

    I hit my funny bone almost two weeks ago. When I hit it I had the tingly ring and pinky finger and numbness in my palm around those fingers. Now my hand feels much better with only a little bit of numbness in the palm. However, my funny bone i s still sensitive. If I lean on my elbow or accidentally elbow something lightly I can feel it in my palm and fingers. I don’t know if I should go and see a doctor or not. It has gotten better so I feel like if I give it more time it will heal. However, I don’t like how even the slightest bump irritates the nerve. What should I do?

  • [...] Most people discover this spot accidentally when they hit their funny bone. [...]

  • Sam:

    As long as it’s improving, I tell most patients to just wait it out.

    A hand and arm surgeon should be able to reassure you if you get nervous about your recovery.

    CNH

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