There is nothing hilarious about whacking your funny bone. In fact, the funny bone is not a bone. It is called that because of the funny – as in hard to describe – feeling you get when that part of the elbow is hit. What you are actually hitting is the ulnar nerve that runs from your neck to your hand. This nerve innervates muscles in the forearm and hand. The end of the nerve has two branches. The little finger and half the ring finger are innervated by these branches.
The Achille’s Heel of the Ulnar Nerve
If you know your Greek mythology, you will remember that Achille’s heel was his vulnerable spot. The elbow is the vulnerable spot for the ulnar nerve. Bones, muscles and, in some areas, ligaments protect the nerve along its path; however, at the elbow this nerve runs through what is called the cubital tunnel.
At this point, the nerve is only protected by skin and fat. When you bump this area, the ulnar nerve is compressed against the bone. At the moment it gets hit, you feel it up and down your arm, in your hand and in both your ring and pinky finger. Shooting pain, numbness and tingling all at once create the unusual feeling expressed as hitting your funny bone.
Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
Fortunately, the sensations you experience are very temporary. That is, unless you have chronic irritation in that area. This condition is called cubital tunnel syndrome. If the ulnar nerve gets pinched during sleep, or is obstructed, the pain and tingling can last longer than usual. If it continues and is not treated, numbness can become permanent and muscle weakness can affect the ring and little fingers. These fingers may begin to curl into what’s known as the “ulnar claw” position.
Treatment for cubital tunnel syndrome may include elbow splinting and correction of positions that aggravate the condition. Hand therapy may also help. When the condition is very severe, surgery may be required to ease the pain by making more space for the ulnar nerve and reducing the pressure.
We address a variety of elbow issues at Ortho Sport & Spine Physicians. Our board-certified orthopedic sports medicine and spine surgeons treat a number of injuries and conditions. We use cutting-edge technology to provide our patients with the best in comfortable, minimally invasive and effective treatments. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.
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