The ulnar nerve helps you grip things with your hand and aids fine motor skills like writing. It also helps your hand and fingers feel things like heat, softness and pain. Ulnar nerve entrapment is a painful condition that affects your ability to grasp items. A tingling “funny bone” sensation occurs when you bump the ulnar nerve in the elbow.
The ulnar nerve helps you move your forearm, hand and certain fingers. Your forearm extends from the elbow to the hand. The ulnar nerve also sends sensory information like touch, temperature and pain to the brain.
Ulnar nerve entrapment occurs when there’s pressure on the ulnar nerve. It can cause hand and finger pain and weakness.
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The ulnar nerve controls nearly all of the small muscles in the hand. Although the ulnar nerve begins at the armpit, it doesn’t perform a function until it enters the forearm.
As a motor (movement) nerve, the ulnar nerve stimulates muscles in the forearm, hand and fingers so you can:
As a sensory nerve, the ulnar nerve gives feeling to the:
The ulnar nerve is one of five nerve branches of the brachial plexus. This nerve bundle sends sensory information and helps you move your shoulders, arms and hands.
The brachial plexus starts as nerve roots in the cervical spine in the neck. The nerves then go behind the collarbone (clavicle), through the armpit (axilla) and down the arm.
People have a left and right ulnar nerve — one to serve each arm. The ulnar nerve starts at the brachial plexus in the armpit and:
The ulnar nerve branches include:
The motor and sensory nerves in the arm are part of the peripheral nervous system. This system sends messages to the brain from your upper limbs, lower limbs and certain organs.
Four other nerves also aid arm movements and sensations:
Ulnar nerve entrapment is a type of nerve compression syndrome. Types include:
Some people experience an ulnar nerve dislocation. The ulnar nerve stretches and slips out of place, often after a traumatic injury. You may feel or hear a snap in the elbow. And you might have an intense pins-and-needles feeling in the fingers and hand.
The ulnar nerve runs underneath the first layer of skin near the elbow. When you bump your elbow against a hard surface, you may temporarily pinch the ulnar nerve. The impact causes a shock-like tingling or burning sensation known as “hitting your funny bone.”
People who put a lot of repeated pressure on their elbows and wrists, or perform repetitive elbow and wrist-bending movements, are more likely to develop ulnar nerve problems. Ulnar problems commonly affect:
In addition to overuse injuries, other causes of ulnar nerve problems include:
Signs of a pinched ulnar nerve include:
These steps can keep your nervous system healthy:
You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
The ulnar nerves help you grip items and perform daily tasks. They also help parts of your hand and certain fingers feel sensations. Pressure on the ulnar nerve can lead to ulnar nerve entrapment in the elbow (cubital tunnel syndrome) or wrist (Guyon’s canal syndrome). The tingling feeling when you bang your elbow on a hard surface — hitting your funny bone — is an ulnar nerve response.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/22/2021.
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