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Hand & Wrist

Hand Anatomy

The human hand is made up of the wrist, palm, and fingers and consists of 27 bones, 27 joints, 34 muscles, over 100 ligaments and tendons, and many blood vessels and nerves.

The hands enable us to perform many of our daily activities such as driving, writing and cooking. It is important to understand the normal anatomy of the hand to learn more about diseases and conditions that can affect our hands.

Bones of the Hand

The wrist is comprised of 8 carpal bones. These wrist bones are attached to the radius and ulna of the forearm to form the wrist joint. They connect to 5 metacarpal bones that form the palm of the hand. Each metacarpal bone connects to one finger at a joint called the metacarpophalangeal joint (MCP joint). This joint is commonly referred to as the knuckle joint. 

The bones in our fingers and thumb are called phalanges. Each finger has 3 phalanges separated by two interphalangeal joints, except for the thumb, which has only 2 phalanges and one interphalangeal joint.

The first joint close to the knuckle joint is called the proximal interphalangeal joint (PIP joint). The joint closest to the end of the finger is called the distal interphalangeal joint (DIP joint).

The MCP and PIP joint act like hinges when the fingers bend and straighten.

Soft Tissues of the Hand

Our hand bones are held in place and supported by various soft tissues. These include: articular cartilage, ligaments, muscles and tendons.

Articular cartilages are smooth material that act as shock absorbers and cushion the ends of bones at each of the 27 joints, allowing smooth movement of the hand.

Muscles and ligaments function to control the movement of the hand.

Ligaments are tough rope-like tissues that connect bones to other bones, holding them in place and providing stability to the joints. Each finger joint has two collateral ligaments on either side, which prevents the abnormal sideways bending of the joints. The volar plate is the strongest ligament in the hand. It joins the proximal and middle phalanx on the palm side of the joint and prevents backward bending of the PIP joint (hyperextension).

Muscles of the Hand

Muscles are fibrous tissues that help produce movement. They work by contracting. 

There are two types of muscles in the hand:

  • Intrinsic muscles are small muscles that originate in the wrist and hand. They are responsible for fine motor movements of the fingers during activities such as writing or playing the piano.
  • Extrinsic muscles that originate in the forearm or elbow control the movement of the wrist and hand. These muscles are responsible for gross hand movements. They position the wrist and hand while the fingers perform fine motor movements. 

Each finger has six muscles controlling its movement: three extrinsic and three intrinsic muscles. The index and little finger each have an extra extrinsic extensor.

Tendons of the Hand

Tendons are soft tissues that connect muscles to bones. When muscles contract, tendons pull the bones, causing the finger to move. The extrinsic muscles are attached to finger bones through long tendons that extend from the forearm through the wrist. Tendons located on the palm side help in bending the fingers and are called flexor tendons, while tendons on top of the hand called extensor tendons help in straightening the fingers.

Nerves of the Hand

Nerves of the hand carry electrical signals from the brain to the muscles in the forearm and hand, enabling movement. They also carry the senses of touch, pain and temperature back from the hands to the brain.

The three main nerves of the hand and wrist include: 

  • Ulnar nerve: The ulnar nerve crosses the wrist through an area called Guyon’s canal and branches to provide sensation to the little finger and half of the ring finger. 
  • Median nerve: The median nerve crosses the wrist through a tunnel called the carpal tunnel. The median nerve provides sensation to the palm, thumb, index finger, middle finger and part of the ring finger. 
  • Radial nerve: The radial nerve runs down the thumb side of the forearm and provides sensation to the back of the hand from the thumb to the middle finger. 

All three nerves originate at the shoulder and travel down the arm to the hand. Each of these nerves has sensory and motor components.

Blood Vessels of the Hand

Blood vessels travel beside the nerves to supply blood to the hand. The main arteries are the ulnar and radial arteries, which supply blood to the front of the hand, fingers, and thumb. The ulnar artery travels next to the ulnar nerve through the Guyon’s canal in the wrist. The radial artery is the largest artery of the hand, traveling across the front of the wrist, near the thumb. Pulse is measured at the radial artery. 

Other blood vessels travel across the back of the wrist to supply blood to the back of the hand, fingers and thumb.

Bursae of the Hand

Bursae are small fluid-filled sacs that decrease friction between tendons and bone or skin. They contain special cells called synovial cells that secrete a lubricating fluid. 

Fractures of the Hand and Fingers

Fractures of the Hand and Fingers

A fracture is a break in the bone, which occurs when force greater than the bearable limit is applied against a bone. The most common symptoms of any fracture include severe pain, swelling, bruising or bleeding, deformity and discoloration of the skin and limited mobility of the hand.

Wrist Sprain

Wrist Sprain

Injuries caused due to stretching or tearing of the ligaments in the wrist are called wrist sprains. Sprains can range from mild to severe, based on the extent of injury to the ligament.

Flexor Tendon Injuries

Flexor Tendon Injuries

Deep cuts on the under surface of the wrist, hand or fingers can cut and injure the tendon, and make it unable to bend one or more joints in a finger. When a tendon gets cut, the cut ends gets pulled away from each other like a rubber band.

Mallet Finger

Mallet Finger

A mallet finger is a condition where the end of the finger is bent and does not straighten.

Mallet finger occurs when the extensor tendon at the back of the finger is damaged.

Finger Sprain

Finger Sprain

Injuries that involve tearing or stretching of the ligaments of your fingers are termed as sprains. Sprains in the fingers are most often caused from a fall when you extend your arms to reduce the impact of the fall, or from overuse or repetitive activity of the thumb such as with texting.

Thumb Fracture

Thumb Fracture

A break or a crack in the bones of the thumb is known as a thumb fracture. Fractures may occur anywhere on the thumb, but a fracture at the base of the thumb, near the wrist, is considered the most serious.

Scaphoid Facture

Scaphoid Facture

The symptoms of a scaphoid fracture include pain and swelling at the site of injury (base of the thumb and forearm). There is usually no deformity at the site of the fracture, hence it may be mistaken for just a sprain.

Adult Forearm Fractures

Adult Forearm Fractures

The forearm is made up of 2 bones, namely, the radius and ulna. The primary function of your forearm is rotation i.e., the ability to turn your palm up and down. The fracture of the forearm affects the ability to rotate your arm, as well as bend and straighten the wrist and elbow.

Arthritis of the Hand and Wrist

Arthritis of the Hand and Wrist

Arthritis is an inflammatory condition of the joints. There are several types of arthritis and the most common type is osteoarthritis or wear-and-tear arthritis. Arthritis affects various joints in the body and the arthritis in the hand affects the joint at the base of the thumb.

Forearm Fractures in Children

Forearm Fractures in Children

The radius (bone on the thumb side) and ulna (bone on the little-finger side) are the two bones of the forearm. Forearm fractures can occur near the wrist, near the elbow or in the middle of the forearm.

Arthritis of the Thumb

Arthritis of the Thumb

Arthritis is an inflammatory condition of the joints. There are several types of arthritis. The most common type is osteoarthritis or wear-and-tear arthritis that affects the joint at the base of the thumb.

Ganglion Cyst

Ganglion Cyst

Ganglion cysts are swellings that most commonly develop along the tendons or joints of wrists or hands. They can be found either at the top of the wrist, palm side of the wrist, end joint of a finger or at the base of a finger.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common, painful, progressive condition that is caused by compression of the median nerve at the wrist area.

De Quervain's Tendinosis

De Quervain's Tendinosis

Inflammation and swelling of the tendon sheaths put pressure on the adjacent nerves and leads to pain and numbness in the thumb side of the wrist. Strain on these tendons can cause swelling and irritation, and lead to a condition called De Quervain's tenosynovitis, which is characterized by inflammation.

Dupuytren's Contracture

Dupuytren's Contracture

Dupuytren’s contracture is a hand condition where thickening of the underlying fibrous tissues of the palm causes the fingers to bend inward. This makes it difficult to fully straighten the affected fingers.

Trigger Finger

Trigger Finger

Inflammation in the tenosynovium leads to a condition called trigger finger, also known as stenosing tenosynovitis or flexor tendonitis, where one of the fingers or thumb of the hand is caught in a bent position.

Gamekeeper's Thumb

Gamekeeper's Thumb

Gamekeeper's thumb, also known as skier's thumb, is a tear of the ulnar collateral ligament, a band of tissue that supports the joint at the base of the thumb.

Extensor Tendon Injuries

Extensor Tendon Injuries

Tendons are bands of tissue connecting muscles to bones. The extensor tendon is a strong, smooth cord that connects finger bones to muscles in the hand. Extensor tendons are located just under the skin, directly on the bone, on the back of the hand and fingers.

Metacarpophalangeal Joint Arthritis

Metacarpophalangeal Joint Arthritis

The bones of the hand are called metacarpals and the bones of the fingers are called phalanges. The metacarpophalangeal joint or MP joint, also known as the first knuckle, is the large joint in the hand where the finger bones meet the hand bones.

Hand Pain

Hand Pain

Hand pain is characterized by distress in the joints and tissues of the hand or fingers. Hand pain can be depicted as pulsating, aching, increased warmth, prickling, irritation and inflexibility.

LRTI (Ligament Reconstruction and Tendon Interposition) for Thumb CMC Arthritis

LRTI (Ligament Reconstruction and Tendon Interposition) for Thumb CMC Arthritis

LRTI (ligament reconstruction and tendon interposition) is a surgical procedure that is most commonly conducted to treat thumb CMC (carpometacarpal) arthritis where the damaged joint surfaces are removed and replaced with a cushion of tissue that keeps the bones separated.

Trapeziectomy

Trapeziectomy

Trapeziectomy is a surgical procedure to treat a medical condition called “thumb base arthritis”. The procedure involves removal of a small, cube-shaped bone known as the “trapezium” at the base of the thumb joint which joins your thumb to your wrist.

Wrist Arthroscopy

Wrist Arthroscopy

Wrist arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure performed to view, diagnose and treat problems of your wrist joint.

Carpal Tunnel Release Surgery

Carpal Tunnel Release Surgery

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common, painful, progressive condition that is caused by the compression of the median nerve at the wrist area.

Total Wrist Arthrodesis

Total Wrist Arthrodesis

Arthrodesis is the surgical immobilization of a joint by the fusion of the adjacent bones.

Total wrist arthrodesis, also known as wrist fusion, is a surgical procedure in which the wrist joint is stabilized or immobilized by fusing the forearm bone (radius) with the small bones of the wrist.

Artificial Finger Joint Replacement

Artificial Finger Joint Replacement

Artificial finger joint replacement is a surgical procedure that involves the removal of an arthritic or damaged finger joint and replacement with an artificial prosthesis.

Finger Joint Fusion

Finger Joint Fusion

Finger joint fusion is performed under local or general anesthesia and usually takes about 2 hours to complete. A cut is made over the back of the finger joint and the soft tissues and nerves are carefully moved aside to expose the damaged joint.

Surgery for Thumb and Digit Arthritis

Surgery for Thumb and Digit Arthritis

Arthritis is an inflammatory condition of the joints. There are several types of arthritis; the most common type is osteoarthritis or wear-and-tear arthritis that affects the joint at the base of the thumb.

Wrist Fracture Fixation

Wrist Fracture Fixation

Wrist fracture fixation may be performed by surgical or non-surgical methods depending on the severity of the fracture

Elective Emergency Hand Surgery

Elective Emergency Hand Surgery

Hand surgery is performed to restore the structure and functionality of the fingers, wrist and hand secondary to a traumatic injury, medical condition, severe infection, or birth defect causing pain and/or deformity of the hand

  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
  • American Medical Association
  • State Orthopaedic Society UTAH
  • Medical College of Wisconsin