Three main nerves run past the elbow and wrist to the hand.
Median nerve. This nerve passes down the
inside of the arm and crosses the front of the elbow. At the wrist it goes
through a "tunnel"—called the carpal tunnel—made up of the wrist bones and a
tough band of connective tissue (ligament). The median nerve supplies muscles
that help bend the wrist and fingers. It is a main nerve for the muscles that
bend the thumb. The median nerve also gives feeling to the skin on much of the
hand around the palm, the thumb, and the index and middle fingers. When the
median nerve is compressed over a long period, it can cause carpal tunnel
Ulnar nerve. This nerve passes
down the inside of the arm. It then passes behind the elbow, where it lies in a
groove between two bony points on the back and inner side of the elbow. The
ulnar nerve supplies muscles that help bend the wrist and fingers, and that
help move the fingers from side to side. It also gives feeling to the skin of
the outer part of the hand, including the little finger and the outer half of
the back of the hand, palm, and ring finger. When the elbow is bumped over the
ulnar nerve, it's often called hitting the "funny bone."
Radial nerve. This nerve passes down the back and outside of
the upper arm. The radial nerve supplies muscles that straighten the elbow, and
lift and straighten the wrist, thumb, and fingers. The radial nerve gives
feeling to the skin on the outside of the thumb and on the back of the hand and
the index finger, middle finger, and half of the ring finger.
ByHealthwise Staff Primary Medical ReviewerWilliam H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine Specialist Medical ReviewerDavid Messenger, MD
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & David Messenger, MD
The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.