Why Does Banging Your Elbow Give You An Electric Shock?

Table of Contents (click to expand)

The ulnar nerve is a long nerve that extends from the neck to the pinkie finger. It is unprotected in the cubital tunnel, which is the space between the upper arm and forearm. When you hit your funny bone, the ulnar nerve is compressed and sends waves of pain through your arm.

As you reach back to pull your chair and sit up straight, your elbow smashes into the chair’s arm, hitting directly on the “sweet spot.” Waves of pain, what people often describe as an “electric shock,” promptly ripple through your arm, from the mighty elbow to your little pinkie.

But what’s so special at this point? Why does it hurt so terribly?

whenever my elbow heat something mem

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Funny Bone

The spot is called the funny bone, although it is anything but a bone and certainly does not make you laugh. Whether the spot is called “funny” because of the uncanny sensation it evokes or is just a pun on the upper arm, the name of the bone under which this area is located, is still unclear.

The funny “bone” is actually a long vine of a nerve called the ulnar nerve that emanates from your neck, runs alongside the shoulder, bicep, and forearm, enters the wrists, and finally culminates halfway to the ring finger and the tip of your pinkie. The nerve is named after the long bone called the “ulnar” that constitutes your forearm and whose sharp, protruding edge forms your elbow. The bone locked with the ulnar is the humerus, which is the bone above your elbow.

(Photo Credit: AAOS)

Every nerve in our body is covered and protected by the muscles it innervates. The same applies to the ulnar nerve: it is protected by the flesh and muscles that make up the biceps, forearm, ring finger, and pinkie. However, there is a gap between the upper arm and forearm, the so-called cubital tunnel, where the nerve is most vulnerable: the skin and some fat only protect it as it passes through the cubital tunnel.

funny bone

When you hit your funny bone against something, the unprotected nerve is pressed against the bone. The squeezed or irritated ulnar nerve spouts the waves of pain, emitting the “electric shock.” The waves terrorize the regions innervated by the nerve: the forearm, the pinkie, and half of the ring finger.

Also Read: How Do Fingers Work If They Don’t Contain Muscles?

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Over the generations, torturers have discovered novel techniques and devised sinister methods to punish their subjects. Still, none of them realized that the cruelest act requires only a chair and a stick. Constantly beating the funny bones of a subject means inflicting the worst torment.

It’s the stuff of nightmares or revenge fantasies, but, as it turns out, this nightmare is a reality for some unfortunate people.

Sleeping with a bent elbow
(Photo Credit: Pexels)

The ulnar nerve is squeezed every time we fold our arms while sleeping, resulting in pain, a strange sensation, and slight numbness, as we know.

However, progressive irritation may cause the effects to persist even after the arm has been unfolded. The continual pain and numbness weaken the forearm’s muscles and often cause the pinkie and ring finger to curl.

The hand then assumes the shape of what is called an “ulnar claw.” This awful condition is called cubital tunnel syndrome, and abating it may require hand therapy or even surgery in extreme cases.

Also Read: Why Do Our Fingers Curl When Sleeping?

References (click to expand)
  1. Ulnar Nerve Entrapment at the Elbow (Cubital Tunnel .... The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
About the Author

Akash Peshin is an Electronic Engineer from the University of Mumbai, India and a science writer at ScienceABC. Enamored with science ever since discovering a picture book about Saturn at the age of 7, he believes that what fundamentally fuels this passion is his curiosity and appetite for wonder.

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