Bumping your funny bone isn’t so funny, so why is it called the “funny bone”? Some say the funny bone was given its name because it is so close to the humerus bone, so the name is really just a play on words. Others say it gets its name from the strange—or “funny”—feeling you get when that part of your arm takes a good whack.
Regardless of its origin, the name funny bone is inaccurate any way you look at it: It’s not even a bone, and it certainly isn’t funny when you hit it.
The funny bone is actually the ulnar nerve, which runs from the back of your neck to your pinky and ring fingers. The ulnar nerve is responsible for feeling and movement in those two fingers, as well as movement of the wrist.
In the upper and forearm, the ulnar nerve is protected by muscles and bones—the humerus in the upper arm, and the ulna in the lower arm. In your elbow, however, the ulnar nerve is in the cubital tunnel, which gives little in the way of protection to the ulnar nerve, leaving it vulnerable to outside forces.
While pain in the ulnar nerve (a.k.a. funny bone) is usually temporary, some people suffer from a condition called cubital tunnel syndrome, which can cause the painful, numbing sensation more frequently. Cubital tunnel syndrome occurs when the ulnar nerve becomes worn out and weakened from too much flexing, pressure on the elbow or serious injury to the elbow and the ulnar nerve becomes compressed or entrapped.
Treatment for cubital tunnel syndrome depends varies depending on the severity and underlying cause of the condition. In most cases, the best course of treatment for this painful condition is rest. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications can help reduce swelling. Bracing or splinting the elbow to keep it in a straight position can also help alleviate pain and numbness caused by cubital tunnel syndrome.
If non-surgical treatment methods fail to improve your condition, if the ulnar nerve is very compressed or if the nerve compression has caused muscle wasting, surgery to relieve pressure on the ulnar nerve may be recommended.
If you experience more than the occasional feeling of tingling, numbness or weakness in your arm, hand or fingers, schedule an appointment with your doctor. If these symptoms are accompanied by change in level of consciousness, passing out or unresponsiveness or a bad headache, seek immediate emergency medical attention, as these symptoms may be the signs of a stroke.