What’s Up with That Funny Bone?

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graphics depicting elbow pain

It is called the “funny bone,” but in actuality, it is not a bone at all that causes the excruciating pain when you hit your elbow. The ulnar nerve runs from your neck to your hand and innervates the muscles in your hand and forearm. Half of your ring finger and your entire little finger are innervated by the two end branches of the nerve.

The Cause of that Funny Feeling

When you strike your elbow a certain way, the ulnar nerve becomes compressed against the bone. You feel the sensations up and down your arm and in your little finger and ring finger. This happens because you hit the nerve in the one place where it is vulnerable.

The ulnar nerve is protected by muscles, ligaments in some areas and bones along the stretch from the neck to the fingers. At the elbow, the protection is limited to skin and fat. At this point, the nerve runs through what is called the cubital tunnel. When struck, the nerve sparks a symphony of shooting pain, tingling and numbness all at one time. In most instances, the shock is short-lived and temporary.

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

When the sensations you feel are lasting, you could be experiencing cubital tunnel syndrome. Chronic irritation in this area can lead to ongoing numbness, pain and tingling. Treatment is necessary in order to prevent permanent damage. Muscle weakness can affect the fingers innervated by the ulnar nerve, and they may curl into what is known as the “ulnar claw” position.

The discomfort can be alleviated through a variety of treatment modalities. Splinting the elbow may be one consideration, along with correction of positions that irritate the nerve. Hand therapy is also used to treat the condition. Occasionally, when the condition is severe, surgery may be recommended to open more space for the nerve and reduce the pressure.

At Allied Pain & Spine Institute, we provide treatment for various elbow injuries and conditions. We are known for effective pain management with a focus on overall wellness. Contact us to schedule an appointment and let us help relieve your discomfort.

Posted on behalf of Dr. James Petros, Allied Pain & Spine Institute