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What is a Funny Bone?

The funny bone is actually the ulnar nerve in the elbow.
The elbow joint. The ulnar nerve is exposed just above the elbow.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 August 2014
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The funny bone is actually not a bone, but refers to the ulnar nerve. The ulnar nerve extends from the hand to the shoulder, and is exposed just above the elbow, in the arm’s interior. Accidentally hitting this area can cause a significant amount of pain or tingling. In fact for some, hitting it can have people hopping about restraining curse words.

The term is also used as a scientific joke since the nerve runs across the humerus bone, which could in a spirit of levity be thought of as the humorous bone. An old saying attached to the it is that “hitting the funny bone is not humerus.” Only a small section of the ulnar nerve forms the sensitive and exposed portion. As the nerve runs along the inside of the arm, only the portion at the elbow is really the funny bone section. The rest of the nerve is better protected.

In fact, this portion is interesting from a scientific viewpoint because it is the only exposed nerve in the human body. Bone, muscles and/or ligaments protect all other nerves, so a small hit to the nerves does not generally cause pain. Unprotected, in this sense, means that this portion of the ulnar nerve is covered by skin, and perhaps a few fat cells. It is not covered or hidden among layers of deep tissue, ligaments, muscles, or bones.

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Not all people react equally to a hit on the funny bone. Some people describe the incident as feeling “weird” or strange, and slightly painful. Others tend to be more sensitive and will feel a great deal of pain if they accidentally hit it on a hard object. Most people describe some degree of pain with tingling.

Thus, the funny bone is actually not very funny when struck. It is an absolute misnomer, as any person who has hit his or her elbow can attest. Unless, of course, one considers that it's “funny” in the sense of not being a bone at all.

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Discuss this Article

anon325716
Post 8

I injured my nerve when I played football and a facemask hit it directly, with my hand planted into someone's shoulder. Now if it's hit hard enough, it will go numb, then it will feel like my whole forearm and hand is on fire. Literally.

anon304121
Post 7

Once I hit it on a chair and the side of my hand to my elbow began to burn. It felt really hot. I put it on ice and it immediately felt better. Pretty weird!

anon203296
Post 6

I hit my funny bone very deeply on a door jam and after 30 seconds, my legs became rubbery and I had to sit down. A hot, burning sensation began in my abdomen and my whole body began to feel hot, weak and I felt like I was going to faint.

I barely made it down the hallway to the bedroom where, after I lay down for five minutes, the sensation began to dissipate and I began to feel better. Has anyone experienced this?

anon156275
Post 5

@rallenwriter: the bone is called "funny" since it has another name called "humerus", which sounds more or less like "humorous."

gregg1956
Post 4

I'm lucky in that hitting my funny bone doesn't cause me too much pain, just makes me a little tingly. Of course my wife is very sensitive on her funny bone, and unfortunately, seems to hit her funny bone constantly, meaning that I have become very good at being comforting, and not laughing at her hopping up and down. That's one I learned the hard way.

Good article though -- I never knew all that about it being a nerve. Thanks for cluing me in.

musicshaman
Post 3

Finally, an article that mentions that the funny bone is a nerve. You would be shocked and appalled at how many articles on the funny bone never actually mention that it's not a bone at all, but a nerve.

Thank you so much for doing the appropriate research and writing a good, clear article. Very well done indeed.

rallenwriter
Post 2

So why do they call it a funny bone to begin with? How did it even get that name. I mean, it's not in any way funny when you hit it, as you said, and I don't think that anybody would find it particularly amusing to call it such, unless of course they're a little schadenfreude.

Then again, a lot of research scientists aren't known for their bleeding hearts, but still, why on earth do they have to call it the funny bone? Why not the swearing bone? Or the painful bone?

Inquiring minds...

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