We have all had the experience of “hitting the funny bone”: that painful buzzing, tingling, and numb feeling in the pinky finger when you hit the wrong spot on the inside of your elbow. Fortunately, it usually takes a few minutes for the feeling to go away on its own. But what if the same feeling started without an injury and it doesn’t go away on its own? At first, you might think that you just slept on your hand wrong, and it simply needs to wake up. But if the symptoms continue for a few days, you might search the internet for an answer to the question: why is my pinky numb?

First, a quick anatomy lesson: The ulnar nerve is responsible for the feeling, or sensation, in the small and ring fingers. This important nerve also controls many of the small muscles within the hand responsible for fine motor control and some muscles in the forearm used for strong gripping. The ulnar nerve is made up of small nerve fibers which exit the spinal column in the neck and travel down the inside of the arm. At the elbow, the ulnar nerve curves around the back of the bony bump within a tunnel on the inner part of the elbow. This bony bump is called the medial epicondyle. The ulnar nerve is close to the skin and vulnerable to injury in this location. This part of the elbow is called the cubital tunnel. You may have recognized this area as the “funny bone,” because bumping the nerve here causes that painful buzzing and tingling feeling shooting into the hand. Additionally, if too much pressure is placed on the nerve over time, the nerve is said to be “pinched” and similar symptoms may develop gradually. In addition to hand numbness, some patients experience decreased grip strength and fine motor control (dexterity) making the hand feel “clumsy” to them. In severe cases, muscle loss (atrophy) in the hand and forearm can develop.

The ulnar nerve can be “pinched” or compressed anywhere along its pathway – from the neck to the fingers. The most common location for the nerve to be irritated is within the cubital tunnel of the elbow. This problem is known as cubital tunnel syndrome. However, the nerve roots in the neck and the ulnar nerve in the wrist are also sites of potential problems and can cause similar symptoms.

In any case, if you have numbness, tingling, pain, or weakness in your hand, tell your doctor about it. There are many different causes of numbness and pain in the hand, and problems with the ulnar nerve are not the only culprits. You may be referred to an orthopaedic surgeon if your symptoms do not go away on their own.

You may ask, “Why should I see an orthopaedic surgeon if I have a nerve problem?” Well, orthopaedists don’t just fix broken bones. We take care of a variety of problems including arthritis, injuries to muscles, tendons, and ligaments, joint disorders, sports injuries, and nerve compression syndromes – in addition to fixing broken bones. We can evaluate the problem, try to determine the cause of the symptoms, and develop a treatment plan with our patients.

Fortunately, many patients with cubital tunnel syndrome can be treated successfully without surgery. Options include resting the elbow, activity modification, night splinting, and nerve gliding therapy. Surgery to reduce pressure on the nerve may be recommended in severe or long-standing cases which do not improve with conservative care. Please talk to your doctor about your treatment options.

Raleigh Hand Center
Raleigh, North Carolina

28 comments

  1. kevin johnson

    I hurt my arm when I was younger now that I am grown I am having probloms numbness &pain real bad &cant move pinky or ringfinger what do I do now its my left hand cant deal with it no longer.what do I do

    • Sherry

      I started getting this was reading , i seen this i need to stop leaning on my computer desk with my elbow as i think this has cause my pinky to go numb its cutting off the nerves there and no circulation got to keep mine straight

      • Casey

        I found while reading the article was having trouble at the beginning of this I put my arm straight and the numbness went away

  2. Ema Phillips

    I want to know what should I do, I went to the occupational therapy yesterday and after she took some measurments and putting my hands in water she told me there was nothing she can do for me that she only fix broken people I spraint my right hand and my thumb is Numb my enjury was aug 5, my Doctor refer me to them. I.m confused

    • Correa

      If the Doctor sent you to a an OT, and didn’t get resolved, try Massage Therapy. Search for a massage therapist that works with injuries instead the ones that mostly do relaxation massage.

  3. Yvgeny

    Numbness or stinging toes and fingers can be …..sounds strange but…Vitamin B12 deficiency. Antacid, alcohol, vegetarian diet are the 3 main causes. Often misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis. That misdiagnosis literally kills people. Hence if you know people with an MS diagnosis, make DAMN SURE THE DOCTOR DIDN’T SCREW UP. Doctors screw this up SO MUCH, the AMA sent notices to every doctor in the US about how common it is to be misdiagnosed. Be wary, and start B12 please.

  4. sharon

    several years ago I had injury to left side of my body, now I’m starting to have a numbness, no pain, in my left pinky finger. could this be a result of my fall. I do a lot of yard work and heavy lifting? thanks for your response.

  5. gone with the wind

    I’m still suffering with multiple diagnosis of radial nerve, ulnar nerve, lateral epicondolytis, and myo facial pain syndrome from last four years. Due to job related injury here in US, it was tough to get the best treatments. My doctors, lawyers and the company officials network limited my actual treatments. Seen chiropractic, orthopedic, pain management, neurology doctors, but no relief yet. What a shameful world I live in.

  6. Nellly

    Thanks for the info it really helped.

  7. jeffrey Leon

    I recently started to feel my pinky go numb and I need to know how to treat it at home. I can move it just fine and I think it’s because I always put my elbow on my desk and none of my other fingers go numb. Also it is my left hand. Please respond I am starting to worry about probably having surgery ’cause I can’t afford it please HELP ME AND RESPOND

    • jeff seid

      wow this is exactly whats going on with me at the moment to me my funny bone this would happen cause i would rest my left elbow on my desk at school for a long periods of time just recently the numbness on the last two fingers (mostly the pinky) wont go away and its been 2 days now like this… its really is getting annoying!! i go to the gym 6 times a week also so that prob isn’t good either, just put some ice on it at the moment numbness sorta went away il keep this post updated…

      • matt

        Same thing here left pinky and ring finger has yours gotten any better been 2 days for me?

    • Miklo San Roman

      Me too! I work at home in my computer and put my left elbow in my desk for long periods of time and started feeling numb in my last two fingers too. I also go to the gym everyday but that shouldn’t be a reason.

  8. Anthony

    I slept wrong on my arm I woke up and the whole thing was numb. It’s been 3 days and my pinky is still only 3/4 better it still has tingling and feels like it is still about 1/4 numb. I need advice because it is a bit scary as this has never happened before. I have diabetes and keep it under control, every time I check it 100 to 125. It is a rarity that it is ever over that unless I eat a lot of pasta.

  9. Tj

    I’ve the same problem as jeff and matt. I’ve also felt the numbness go away after exposing my hand to cold for a short while. I would like to know pf any at home solutions before scheduling an appointment with my doctor.

  10. Gc

    I have had this problem on and off for the last 25+ years. The two fingers farthest from my thumb on my left hand go numb to varying degrees. No real tingles or lack of strength but it can go from just a little bit numb to very numb from minute to minute. The one time I was tested for what was wrong, I was told I had a form of carpal tunnel syndrome in my elbow. The weirdest part is it will just go numb without me hitting it or doing anything. Or, sometimes if my watch is too tight that seems to cause it even though I was told the problem is in my elbow.

    It can last for many months or even more than a year at a time to varying degrees. Then one minute it just stops being numb and just goes away for just as long or longer. My fingers have been numb now for at least 6 months but has gotten worse in the last week. You just sort of get use to it.

    • sheri k

      My finger has been numb for six months and if I lean on my elbow for a length of time my whole hand goes numb and feels like jello. My hand comes back normal but my finger is still numb and feels almost like a rubber band is on it. Has anyone heard of it lasting long times.

  11. Tom

    I’ve had this strange tingling feeling for nearly two months now in my little finger, the finger next to that but not as much and also the left side of my hand. I’ve also recently noticed that when I touch a certain spot in my elbow that it sends a sudden shock straight to the three area’s i mentioned above.

    This is definitely a problem to do with the nerves but I don’t understand how as I just have a simple boring office job with no heavy lifting or anything. I also don’t recall ever knocking my elbow that hard that it would damage the nerves. The only thing I can think of is that I’m always leaning on it at work but so is everyone else that sits at a desk all day.

    The tingling and numbness seems to come very suddenly without any warning. One minute I can touch my pinky and it will be numb and the next minute it will be fine. I cant really be bothered going to the doctors with this as it doesn’t seem like a serious problem, more annoying than anything. But I just want to know if there is a way I can sort this out without seeing anyone. I feel like when I tell people that my little finger has been tingling for two months straight that they don’t believe me because I get some strange looks haha

  12. Erica Racine

    I have had numbness on my pinky that side of my hand for over 2. months continuously what do you think i can do.

  13. Robert R.

    My Pinky Finger Has Been Cold And Numb For Weeks I Have No Clue. Whats Wrong

    • Dr. John Erickson

      Having a cold, numb finger is not normal. Start with a thorough evaluation by your primary care and if there is concern for a nerve problem such as a pinched nerve, consider a referral to an orthopedic specialist.

  14. Rere

    Left hand pinky and ring finger is num and tingle and cold a lil pain but not that bad tight when I try to open and close

  15. sheri k

    My finger went numb back in June. I got food poisoning and was in bed for 3 days. I woke up on 3rd day in the middle of the night no feeling in my pinkie and ring finger. My ring finger came back but my pinkie finger still has part numb. It feels like a rubber band on it. I had leaned on my elbow and my whole hand went numb and felt like jello. the feeling comes back immediately after I lift my elbow. How long can this last?

  16. LeAnn

    My middle finger and ring finger hurt when I try to open things brush my hair.. Certain ways I hold things hurt badly… My forearm hurts in sink with the fingers .. I have trouble holding things, putting on my bra is a no no. Hanging my arms to my side, this arm won’t extend fully it gets painful so I push it to full extension and it hurts so bad…I haven’t been to dr cause I don’t have insurance and no money.
    Er 45 min drive for them.to say oh pulled muscle…. It’s been like this almost 3 months…. Now my the tip of my pinky finger went numb this morning . reading this made me think of the neck feelings I was having yesterday and wondered if it was all.tied in.

  17. Mary Robinson

    I’m trying to figure out what’s wrong with me. I’m not sure if this is what’s going on or if I might just have a knot in my muscle. My hand aches periodically and it aches so bad I can’t sleep. The only way I’ve found getting relief is to actually apply an INSANE amount of UNCOMFORTABLE amount of pressure on my funny bone. It’s a big knot in my elbow and feels tingly just like wheb I hit it unexpectedly. When I squeeze it SEVERELY it’s uncomfortable and my hand tingles like its asleep and it goes somewhat numb and I can only handle it in short spurts. But after a 20 minute session. The tension eventually goes away. But it always comes back and I always wake up to PAINFUL aching hands OR completely numb hands. Please help me make sense. I’m at my wits end. And what should I do for relief.

  18. Jeff

    Go to a Dr, DUH!!!

  19. Tony S.

    My left pinky has been numb for more than an hour. What should I do? What is going on?

  20. Kassidy

    My left pinky/hand falls asleep all the time I broke my arm and my 3 fingers I never had surgery on my left arm I had surgery on my right arm and same to my right collarbone I do play sports does that have to do anything with my left arm/ hand. I’m just a 17 year old girl and I was just wondering.

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