Hand & Wrist Anatomy
The hand is composed of many small bones called carpals, metacarpals and
phalanges. The two bones of the lower arm -- the radius and the ulna --
meet at the hand to form the wrist.
The Median and Ulnar nerves are the major nerves of the hand, running the
length of the arm to transmit electrical impulses to and from the brain
to create movement and sensation.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is a compression neuropathy, i.e. a pinching
of the median nerve within the wrist. The carpal tunnel is a bony canal
within the palm side aspect of the wrist that allows for the passage of
the median nerve to the hand.
Pinching or compression of this nerve by the transverse carpal ligament
sets into motion a progressively crippling disorder which eventually results
in wrist pain, numbness and tingling in the hand, pain consisting of a
“pins and needles” feeling at night, weakness in grip and
a feeling of incoordination.
Who Gets CTS?
This disabling syndrome occurs more often in women than men, by a ratio
of 3 to 1, usually between the ages of 30 and 50 years. Also, CTS is seen
more frequently in people who tend to do forceful repetitive types of
work, such as grocery store checkers, assembly line workers, meat packers,
typist, accountants, writers, etc. Most patients generally visit their
doctor with these complaints, and the diagnosis is confirmed after physical
examination and appropriate nerve testing.
How is CTS Treated?
Treatment for CTS depends upon the stage of the disease. In the early stage,
the syndrome can be reversible and is most often treated with appropriate
modification in activities, a removable wrist brace, and anti-inflammatory
medicines. In moderate stages of the disorder, especially if the numbness
and pain continues in the wrist and hand, a cortisone injection into the
carpal tunnel can be extremely beneficial. Surgical intervention in CTS
is only indicated in those patients in whom non-operative treatment has
failed to eliminate their symptoms. In patients with advanced disease,
and especially in those who have profound weakness or muscle atrophy,
surgical intervention should be done early. CTS should not be left untreated
because it can eventually cause permanent nerve damage.
Triangular Fibrocartilage Complex
This is a cartilage similar to the cartilage in the knee that is often
torn and does not have an adequate blood supply to it. The reason it is
causing discomfort is usually there is a flap of tissue that is flapping
back and forth and causes irritation of the joint.
For this problem there are three modes of treatment; no treatment, conservative,
Conservative treatment would consist of resting the wrist in a wrist brace
or a cortisone injection. Usually anti-inflammatory medications and physical
therapy is not beneficial.
If there is persistent pain despite conservative treatment, arthroscopic
surgery with debridement of the tear to give the tear smooth edges is
usually very successful. This can be performed under local anesthesia
on an outpatient basis with two or three small incisions on the wrist.
Occasionally, the cartilage can be repaired.
Thumb (CMC Joint) Arthritis
This is the most common location for arthritis in the hand is due to wear
and tear with use of the thumb throughout the patient's years.
There is no cure for arthritis but there is treatment falling into three
categories; no treatment, conservative, and surgery.
Surgery -- as the last resort, when conservative treatment has failed --
consists of a joint replacement using the patient's normal body tissues
and involves excising the arthritic bone and replacing it with a tendon
taken from the wrist which is rolled up into a ball and used as a spacer
and a portion of it is used to reconstruct the ligament. This is done
through a small incision at the base of the thumb and a smaller incision
at the base of the wrist to harvest the tendon used for the graft. It
is an outpatient procedure performed under axillary block where only the
arm goes to sleep. The patient is immobilized in a splint for two weeks,
then a thumb spica cast for two weeks and then uses a removable custom
made splint for two months while they are undergoing therapy for their thumb.
The first month is to regain range of motion and the second month to regain
strength. This concludes a three month postoperative rehabilitation protocol.
Patients have a very good success rate with this surgery.
Before surgery is considered, conservative treatment is attempted which
is aimed at alleviating the symptoms of arthritis. This consists of use
of a splint, possible anti-inflammatory medications, possible icing, and
occasionally a cortisone injection which usually give good but temporary relief.
Dupuytren's disease is a genetically inherited disorder which primarily
involves the palmar aponeourosis and its digital prolongations.
The primary pathological change is in the fascial tissues of the palm which
results in thickening, cord-like formation of contractile bands, and then
eventual contractures at the level of the interphalangeal joints. On occasion,
it can be associated with other diseases such as diabetes, epilepsy, or
Certain contributing factors increase the likelihood of significant progression.
These include a strong family history, early onset of disease, rather
extensive bilateral involvement, and the presence of disease in other
areas such as the plantar regions of the feet. These contributing factors
may lead to a more aggressive course of the disease and possibly even
an operation at an earlier age.
The disease is seen much more frequently in men than in women and has a
tendency to usually appear between the ages of 40 and 60.
Dupuytren's disease has over a 65% chance of being bilateral, and can
involve other areas such as the foot, the dorsum of the hand, and other
fibrous tissues. It is a slowly progressive disorder which may have periods
of temporary arrest, or even a rapid progression. After the nodules have
formed, the tendency is for these to coalesce into a cord, which will
lead to a flexion contracture at the MCP joints and the PIP joints. The
skin itself can be infiltrated by the disease.
Initial treatment is always non-surgical. This would consist of continued
observation for progression of the problem. As the disease does not involve
any pain, there is no reason for the excision of the nodules or cords
until contractures in digits have occurred. If a contracture becomes bothersome
or a nodule becomes painful, or if the contracture in the MCPJ exceeds
30 degrees or any involvement at the PIP joint occurs, we would recommend
surgical excision. This would consist of a palmar and digital fasciectomy
utilizing an axillary block anesthetic. A skin graft taken from the forearm
is almost always used. Long term results are usually quite good. If contractures
have developed at the MCPJ and PIP joint, they can usually be corrected
to within half of the preoperative level. Recurrence of the disease is
possible, but this is usually not associated with further contracture
De Quervain's Disease
The problem is a swelling of the tendon sheath around the tendons passing
along the distal radial aspect of the wrist. This sheath runs through
a tight tunnel holding the tendon down to bone and this swollen sheath
passing through a tight tunnel results in significant pain. For this problem
there are three modes of treatment, not treatment, conservative treatment
As a last resort, when conservative treatment has failed, surgical decompression
of the tendon by opening up the pulley can be performed as an outpatient
procedure under local anesthesia with a small incision. This has a good
Conservative treatment consists of modification of activities, use of a
thumb brace and occasional icing and then possible use of anti-inflammatory
medications. If the pain still persists despite the above treatment a
cortisone injection can be helpful. No more than three cortisone injections
are recommended per year in any one location.
Volar Plate Avulsion Injury
This is a hyperextension injury which is essentially a ligamentous injury
although it may involve a portion of bone avulsed off by a ligament. It
usually involves a piece of bone avulsed off the base of the middle phalanx
by the volar plate which is usually not significantly displaced and usually
will heal without problem. It also usually involves a collateral ligament
tear which heals without problem but often heals with abundant scar tissue
leading to an appearance of chronic swelling on one side of the joint,
which is permanent.
No more than a few days of immobilization is necessary and is important
to work on obtaining full range of motion of the joint. The middle joint
of the fingers is the worst with regards to stiffness and early range
of motion is very important. Range of motion exercises may be explained
to the patient or therapy with a hand therapist may be necessary.
"Buddy taping" of the fingers after the initial few days of immobilization
is all that is necessary for finger support. At first, "buddy taping"
will be necessary all the time, gradually progressing to "buddy taping"
only with exertive or sporting activities with effected hand.
If motion is begun early, full range of motion can be expected. For those
who have been immobilized longer, permanent stiffness may result. Rarely,
with severe stiffness, surgical release of the scarred tendons and joint
capsule may be necessary, also rarely, instability may result which may
require reconstructive surgery. Most patients do extremely well, being
able to progress to painless activity with full function, with minimal