Why is Our Funny Bone Not Funny?

By: Adam Jameel


Hitting your elbow against a desk leaves you in a world of pain, and is devoid of any humour, at least as far as you are concerned. "Ouch, I hit my funny bone." So why is it called the funny bone?


The funny bone is not a bone at all. It is actually a region where the ulnar nerve rests against the humerus. When a person makes contact with that region, it sends nerve signals to your spine, which represents the painful feeling. This is because the nerve is only protected by a thin layer of skin and fat, thus leaving it exposed to impact. When hit, it makes a jolting impact with the humerus, which sends a pain signal throughout the region.

The nerve comes from the spine and branches out across our shoulders and arms. It passes through several channels in the humerus until it reaches the “Cubital Tunnel”, which is a 4mm area located at the bottom of our elbows. Oddly enough, this region, once damaged to an extent, can lead to “Cubital Tunnel Syndrome”, which is similar to carpal tunnel syndrome and can render our arms useless and without feeling. This can also lead to a great deal of long-running pain and may require surgery to relieve the pressure if the damage surpasses a mild hit.


For most people, it does not reach the levels needed for a diagnosis for C.T.S., but that can occur if the nerve is hit repeatedly or cramped for a long time. This can occur if people also bend their arms at their elbows frequently as it induces certain amounts of strain or if people bend their arms and lay against them when they sleep.


Thankfully, solutions range from noninvasive splints (which hold the arm in a position that does not allow it to bend), to surgery, as recommended by the American Society for Surgery for the Hand if the nerve is in a position that necessitates removal of parts of the bone, or relocation to the front of your elbow.

Research on this issue has existed for quite a while, but little has changed on treatments. Before, surgeons would advise surgery on every case of C.T.S. because of the high potential for damage that can arise. However, this has changed now to an extent, where doctors begin to advise resting their arm, since it is believed that now the ulnar nerve can move back to its original spot safely. But researchers believe that there is not enough intel to conclude on the issues that can arise with C.T.S because of the lack of actual data and consensus in the scientific community regarding it.


So if it's clearly not funny to gain the symptoms and the extreme pain that comes with C.T.S., how did the name even come about?


Some ideas for the name came from the original use in 1842, in the Oxford Dictionary. In a poem about Bloudie Jack of Shrewsberrie. Jack was caught by a mob and torn apart “until the funny bones crack as if you were stretched out on a rack.” This uses irony to show how when his arm was ripped off at the humerus, it causes a great deal of pain, as one can imagine, so the usage of that phrase was based on linguistic regional slang as well as a pun against a person despised by the people of the town. It then moved on from the original meaning to signify a feeling that is “funny” in the sense that it is extremely awkward and induces a tingling feeling.


So while the original meaning does not make it funny, nor the meaning in the status quo show any funny business going on, it is fair to conclude that our funny bone was just a joke. But, it is important to realize that aggravating it does not make it more fun and to make sure to take care of the sensitive nerve.


Educational Content:

1. Why is our funny bone called that?

This was an attempt done by the Oxford Dictionary to induce a pun that has later spiraled to mean a region that makes people feel weird. This is because the nerve that can be found makes a sensation due to the pinched ulnar nerve that gets pressed against the bone of the humerus.


2. What are some complications that can arise from the pinched nerve?

The ulnar nerve once pinched first induces a great deal of pain. The pain is sent to the spine, where the nerve originates from in order to allow a person to move/change spots in order to not deal lasting damage. If there is repetitive damage or prolonged aggravation, it can lead to “Cubital Tunnel Syndrome” which causes a large amount of pain and can even render our arms useless due to a lack of feeling. This will require doctors to either pursue noninvasive procedures like physically trying to massage the nerve back and splints. Or this can lead to surgery to reroute the nerve to the front of the elbow or cutting part of the bone to relieve pressure.


Citations:


https://www.nebh.org/blog/why-is-it-called-the-funny-bone/


https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20150827-why-does-it-hurt-so-much-to-hit-your-funny-bone


https://theconversation.com/explainer-what-is-the-funny-bone-12149


Images:


1. By Henry Vandyke Carter - This file was derived from: Gray414.png(modified by Engusz at Hungarian Wikipedia), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45


2. Disease Medicine Health - Free photo on Pixabay



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