Dr. Mark E. Pruzansky
Dr. Jason S. Pruzansky
975 Park Avenue New York, NY 10028

Meniscus of the Wrist

While the term “meniscus” is commonly associated with the knee joint, the wrist also possesses structures referred to as menisci, albeit in a different context. Unlike the weight-bearing role of the menisci in the knee, these structures in the wrist serve distinct functions related to stability, load distribution, and joint integrity. 

Understanding the anatomy and function of wrist menisci is essential for hand and wrist surgeons to effectively diagnose and manage injuries or conditions affecting these critical structures. Let’s delve deeper into the roles and significance of wrist menisci in maintaining optimal wrist function and health.

Meniscus Anatomy

In the intricate anatomy of the wrist, the term “meniscus” refers to specialized fibrocartilaginous structures situated within specific parts of the wrist joint, most notably the triangular fibrocartilage (TFC) and the meniscal homologue. 

Triangular Fibrocartilage (TFC)

The TFC is a critical structure located on the ulnar side of the wrist, providing stability and cushioning to the joint. The meniscal homologue has several attachments, including the triangular fibrocartilage disc, the ulnar collateral ligament, the sheath of the extensor carpi ulnaris tendon, the wrist capsule, and the ligaments to the ulna head.

The triangular fibrocartilage complex, commonly referred to as the TFCC, is a wedge-shaped structure situated between the ulna, radius, and carpal bones. It functions to distribute forces across the wrist ligaments, absorb shock, and facilitate smooth rotational movement during wrist motion. The TFCC also acts as a stabilizer, particularly during activities that involve rotation or loading of the wrist.

Meniscal Homologue

The ulnocarpal meniscus, also known as the meniscal homologue, is a fibrous structure located between the ulnar head, styloid, and the carpal bones, primarily the lunate and triquetrum. While not as well-defined as the TFCC, the ulnocarpal meniscus plays a role in stabilizing the ulnar aspect of the wrist joint and assisting in load transmission.

Functions of Wrist Menisci

The Triangular Fibrocartilage Complex (TFCC) and the meniscal homologue play pivotal roles in ensuring the optimal function and stability of the wrist joint. While they serve distinct yet complementary functions, both structures contribute to the intricate biomechanics of the wrist, allowing for smooth and coordinated movements across a range of activities.

Maintaining Wrist Stability

One of the primary functions of both the TFCC and the ulnocarpal meniscus is to provide stability to the wrist joint. The TFCC acts as a supportive structure, anchoring the ulnar head to the distal radius. This stabilizes the ulnar side of the wrist and prevents excessive movement or shifting of the bones during rotation. Similarly, the ulnocarpal meniscus adds further stability by maintaining the ulnar head in its proper alignment within the wrist joint. Together, these structures help distribute forces evenly throughout the wrist, reducing the risk of injury and help to maintain joint integrity.

Distributing Forces

In addition to stability, both the TFC and the meniscal homologue play crucial roles in distributing forces within the wrist joint. During activities such as lifting, gripping, or pushing, the forces generated by muscle contractions are transmitted through the wrist and absorbed by these fibrocartilaginous structures. By distributing these forces evenly across the joint surfaces, the TFC and meniscal homologue help prevent excessive wear and tear on the articular cartilage and surrounding tissues, reducing the risk of degenerative changes and maintaining joint health.

Minimizing Friction

Another important function of the TFC and meniscal homologue is to minimize friction within the wrist joint. As the bones of the wrist glide and rotate during movement, these structures act as shock absorbers, reducing friction between the articulating surfaces. This allows for smooth and effortless motion, enhancing the efficiency and comfort of everyday activities.

Facilitating Smooth Articulation

Furthermore, the TFCC and meniscal homologue contribute to the smooth articulation of the wrist during various movements, including flexion, extension, radial and ulnar deviation, and rotation. Their flexible yet resilient nature allows for controlled and coordinated motion, ensuring that the bones of the wrist move harmoniously without impingement or restriction. This enables individuals to perform a wide range of tasks with precision and ease, from typing on a keyboard to swinging a tennis racket.

Injuries to Wrist Menisci

Injuries to the menisci of the wrist, including the Triangular Fibrocartilage Complex (TFCC), TFC, and the meniscal homologue, can result from a variety of factors, including acute trauma, chronic overuse, degenerative changes, or anatomical variations. These injuries can lead to a range of debilitating symptoms and functional limitations, necessitating prompt diagnosis and appropriate management strategies.

TFC Injuries

TFC injuries are among the most common wrist meniscus injuries and can occur due to a variety of mechanisms, including falls onto an outstretched hand, sudden twisting motions, repetitive stress, or degenerative changes associated with aging. Common TFC injuries include tears, sprains, and degenerative changes, which can lead to symptoms such as pain, swelling, clicking or popping sensations, weakness, and instability in the wrist. Individuals with TFC injuries may experience difficulty gripping objects, performing weight-bearing activities, or bearing weight on the affected wrist.

Meniscal Homologue Injuries

Injuries to the ulnocarpal meniscus are less common but can also cause significant pain and dysfunction in the wrist. These injuries often result from repetitive stress, degenerative changes, or anatomical abnormalities affecting the ulnar side of the wrist joint. Symptoms of meniscal homologue injuries may include pain, swelling, stiffness, and limited range of motion, particularly during activities that involve wrist rotation or ulnar deviation. 

Diagnosis and Treatment of Wrist Meniscus Injuries

Diagnosing injuries to the wrist menisci involves a thorough evaluation, including history-taking, physical examination, and imaging studies such as MRI or arthroscopy. Conservative treatments, including rest, immobilization, physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory medications, are often recommended for mild to moderate injuries. However, severe or refractory cases may require surgical intervention, such as arthroscopic repair or debridement, to restore wrist function.

The multidisciplinary approach involves collaboration between orthopedic wrist surgeons, hand therapists, and other healthcare professionals to optimize patient outcomes. By integrating various treatment modalities and expertise, healthcare teams can effectively manage wrist meniscus injuries and help patients regain optimal wrist function and quality of life.

More on the Meniscus of the Wrist

While less well-known than their counterparts in the knee joint, the menisci of the wrist play vital roles in maintaining joint stability, function, and health. Understanding the anatomy and function of these structures is crucial for healthcare professionals involved in the diagnosis and management of wrist injuries. 

By recognizing the significance of wrist menisci and implementing appropriate treatment strategies, we can help patients achieve optimal outcomes and return to their daily activities with confidence. To learn more about the wrist menisci, read about related conditions and treatments.