- Whacking your funny bone may feel like you've broken something, but
it's a type of temporary nerve compression
- Actual stress fractures in small bones heal in weeks if treated with care
You swivel, reach and — Ow! — hit the corner of your chair
with your elbow. Whoever called it a funny bone, anyway?
Maybe we mashed together those two words — funny and bone —
to reflect the painful truth that it feels for a minute as if we’ve
broken an elbow bone, but, ha!, not really. It never seems that funny
in the moment, though.
What happens when you hit your so-called funny bone is that you’ve
pressed the ulnar nerve against the hard surface of the humerus bone,
which runs from your shoulder to your elbow. The sudden compression sends
a tingling shard of pain through your arm, but, as we all know, it passes
in moments with no lasting effects.
But the passing pain of smacking your funny bone is related to a more serious,
persistent problem called cubital tunnel syndrome. You may know it as
Cubital tunnel syndrome occurs when the ulnar nerve is persistently compressed
or restricted, whether from repetitive motion or from being kept in an
unnatural position, such as during sleep. In such situations, the pain
can be chronic and the sufferer can be miserable.
The good news is the condition is highly treatable, often by simple hand
therapy exercises and sometimes, medication. To learn more, read
"Can you break your funny bone?".
Managing small fractures
The problem of tennis elbow — a nerve compression that might be caused
by the repetitive motion of hitting a forehand shot over and over —
leads to another category of small, but painful problems.
Stress fractures often occur in athletes, though they can happen to anyone.
They may be caused by repetitive, taxing motion, such as running on a
hard surface, or by an acute injury, such as a fall.
The Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine notes, “Stress fractures account for between 1% and 20% of athletic injuries,
with 80% of stress fractures in the lower extremity.” These could
include the big toe, the metatarsal or other bones of the feet and ankles.
Such fractures occur when the bone can no longer absorb the impact from
running or other activity and develops a small crack. While it is not
as severe an injury as a complete break of the bone, a stress fracture
is painful and interferes with a person’s ability to continue to
run or exercise.
The good news is that most cases are managed conservatively — by
taking weight off the fractured bone, as with crutches, immobilizing the
injured area and allowing the bone to heal itself. Depending on the location
of the fracture,
a person can return to weight-bearing activities in three to 12 weeks.
However, there is a small category of higher-risk stress fractures that
can limit blood flow or progress to complete fractures. These require
more active treatment, sometimes including surgery.
When you have something more lasting than a momentary “funny bone”
problem, such as pain that doesn’t go away and interferes with your
normal activities, you should discuss it with a health care provider.
You can find a Providence provider near you in
our online directory.
Providence Fracture Program,
Providence Sports Medicine
Sports Medicine at Swedish Orthopedic Institute,
Providence Orthopedics & Sports Medicine - Spokane
CA: Orthopedics/Sports Medicine,
St. Joseph Health Medical Group,
Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center and
St. Jude Medical Center
Providence Orthopedic Services
Providence Sports Medicine
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.