What is the funny bone?
The funny bone is an area around the elbow, where the bone of the upper arm (humerus) meets one of the forearm bones (ulna).
Why does it hurt when the funny bone is hit?
This is because of the ulnar nerve. The ulnar nerve is a major nerve of the arm, running from the neck, through the armpit, down the arm, and into the forearm. At the elbow, the ulnar nerve can be easily felt - put your fingers on the point of your elbow, then slide your fingers towards you. Your fingers will fall into a groove, which is where the nerve is. If you slide your fingers around the groove,you can feel the nerve which is just below the skin, and it will be a little sore because you are pressing on the nerve. If it gets hit (for example on a chair), it can be really painful!
Why is it called the funny bone?
Well, this certainly is a strange name, as it's really not funny if it gets hit. The name may refer to the funny tingling feeling you can get after hitting the funny bone, or to the fact that the ulnar nerve runs behind the humerus bone (sounds like humerous). In our experience though, it seems to be linked to the reaction of those people around you when your funny bone is hit - everyone else seems to find it extremely funny!!
Can the funny bone be injured or broken?
Usually, hitting the funny bone only causes tingling in the hand and an unpleasant pain at the elbow. This usually resolves after a few minutes, even after a pretty hard hit.
A sharp injury though, such as from a knife or broken glass, can seriously injure the funny bone area. If the ulnar nerve is cut, this can lead to numbness in the little and ring fingers, and weakness in the hand and wrist. Surgery can usually repair the nerve, but some of the effects of the injury may still be permanent.
Similarly, a break of the bones around the funny bone area (humerus or ulna), can stretch or cut the ulnar nerve and lead to the same injury. A stretched nerve may well not need surgery, though, and may recover completely in time.
Other relevant SurgeryWise articles: fingertip breaks, broken knuckles, fractures, hand surgery, mallet finger
The information provided is as a guide only and you should discuss matters fully with your specialist before deciding on any procedure for you. Please also read our disclaimer