NOV 01, 2016 1:34 PM PDT

What Does it Mean to Bump Your Funny Bone?

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

We've probably all experienced that inexplicable tingling sensation after hitting our elbow the wrong way. Wise folks will tell you that you've hit the "funny bone." But there's nothing funny about it - the sensation is a prickly, reverberating ache that lasts for seconds to minutes. What causes this awkward feeling?

To begin with, the pain has nothing to do with any bone. Rather, the tingling sensation comes from trauma to the ulnar nerve in your elbow. This nerve is the largest unprotected nerve in the body - meaning there's no muscle around it. So, when you accidentally whack your elbow at the ulnar nerve, the trauma to the nerve temporarily impedes connection to the brain, which then results in the weird painful sensation. Of note this is similar to the "pins and needles" sensation when your legs fall asleep.

So why did the funny bone get its name if it's neither funny nor a bone? Some people say the name derives from the humerus bone along which the ulnar nerve runs. Other say the name directly reflects the inexplicable, funny, pain that comes after bumping it.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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