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http://upload.orthobullets.com/topic/6047/images/anatomic illustration.jpg
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  • Mechanism of TFCC injury
    • Type 1 traumatic injury
      • mechanism
        • most common is fall on extended wrist with forearm pronation
        • traction injury to ulnar side of wrist
      • traction injury to ulnar wrist
    • Type 2 degenerative injury
      • associated with positive ulnar variance
      • associated with ulnocarpal impaction
  • TFCC made up of
    • dorsal and volar radioulnar ligaments
      • deep ligaments known as ligamentum subcruentum
    • central articular disc
    • meniscus homolog
    • ulnar collateral ligament
    • ECU subsheath
    • origin of ulnolunate and ulnotriquetral ligaments
  • Blood supply
    • periphery is well vascularized (10-40% of the periphery)
    • central portion is avascular
  • Origin
    • dorsal and volar radioulnar ligaments originate at the sigmoid notch of the radius
  • Insertion
    • dorsal and volar radioulnar ligaments converge at the base of the ulnar styloid

Class 1 - Traumatic TFCC Injuries
1A Central perforation or tear
1B Ulnar avulsion (without ulnar styloid fx)
1C Distal avulsion (origin of UL and UT ligaments)
1D Radial avulsion
Class 2 - Degenerative TFCC Injuries
2A TFCC wear and thinning
2B Lunate and/or ulnar chondromalacia + 2A
2C TFCC perforation + 2B
2D Ligament disruption + 2C
2E Ulnocarpal and DRUJ arthritis + 2D
  • Symptoms
    • wrist pain
    • turning a door key often painful
  • Physical exam
    • positive "fovea" sign 
      • tenderness in the soft spot between the ulnar styloid and flexor carpi ulnaris tendon, between the volar surface of the ulnar head and the pisiform
      • 95% sensitivity and 87% specificity for foveal disruptions of TFCC or ulnotriquetral ligament injuries
    • pain elicited with ulnar deviation (TFCC compression) or radial deviation (TFCC tension)
  • Radiographs
    • usually negative
    • zero rotation PA view evaluates ulnar variance
    • dynamic pronated PA grip view may show pathology
  • Arthography
    • joint injection shows extravasation
  • MRI
    • has largely replaced arthrography
    • tear at ulnar part of lunate indicates ulnocarpal impaction
    • sensitivity = 74-100%
  • Arthroscopy
    • most accurate method of diagnosis
    • indicated in symptomatic patients after failing several months of splinting and activity modification
  • Differential for ulnar sided wrist pain
  • Nonoperative
    • immobilization, NSAIDS, steroid injections
      • indications
        • all acute Type I injuries
        • first line of treatment for Type 2 injuries
  • Operative
    • arthroscopic debridement
      • indications
        • type 1A
        • diagnostic gold standard
    • arthroscopic repair
      • indications
        • type 1B, 1C, 1D
        • best for ulnar and dorsal/ulnar tears
        • generally acute, athletic injuries more amenable to repair than chronic injuries
      • outcomes
        • patient should expect to regain 80% of motion and grip strength when injuries are classified as acute (<3 months)
    • ulnar diaphyseal shortening
      • indications
        • Type II with ulnar positive variance is > 2mm
        • advantage of effectively tightening the ulnocarpal ligaments and is favored when LT instability is present
    • Wafer procedure
      • indications 
        • Type II with ulnar positive variance is < 2mm
        • type 2A-C
    • limited ulnar head resection
      • indications
        • type 2D
    • Darrach procedure
      • indications
        • contraindicated due to problems with ulnar stump instability
  • Arthroscopic debridement post
    • approach
      • arthroscopic approach to the wrist
        • performed through combination of 3-4 and 6R portal
    • technique
      • maintain 2 mm rim peripherally otherwise joint can become unstable
    • pros & cons
      • not effective if patient has ulnar positive variance
      • 80% of patients obtain good relief of pain
  • Arthroscopic repair
    • approach
      • arthroscopic approach to the wrist
    • technique
      • many techniques exist such as outside-in and inside-out
      • generally suture based repair
    • pros & cons
      • only works for peripheral tears where blood supply is present
      • patient immobilized for 6 weeks
    • complications
      • ECU tendonitis from suture knot
      • dorsal sensory nerve injury
  • Ulnar diaphyseal shortening
    • approach
      • dorsal approach to the forearm
    • technique
      • osteotomy of the diaphysis or metaphysis followed by plate fixation
    • pros & cons
      • can address > 2 mm ulnar variance
      • requires immobilization and time for fracture healing
      • can help tension the ulnocarpal ligaments
    • complications
      • nonunion
      • hardware irritation necessitating removal
  • Wafer procedure
    • approach
      • dorsal approach to the forearm
    • technique
      • ulnar cortex is not disrupted
      • do not extend bone removal into the DRUJ
    • pros & cons
      • intrinsic stability of ECU, TFCC, and ulnar periosteum obviate need for plate fixation
  • Limited ulnar head resection
    • approach
      • arthroscopic approach to the wrist
    • technique
      • removal of approximately 2-4 mm of bone under the TFCC
      • distal ulnar burred through central TFCC defect
    • pros & cons
      • can be technically difficult to obtain level shortening through TFCC window
      • only applicable when patient has < 2mm of ulnar variance
  • Darrach procedure post
    • approach
      • dorsal approach to the forearm
    • technique
      • resection of the distal 1-2cm of the distal ulna
      • TFCC should be approximated to the wrist capsule
    • pros & cons
      • salvage procedure for pain relief only
      • distal joint is unstable
    • complications
      • ECU tendon can sublux over remaining ulna causing pain

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Questions (2)

(SBQ07SM.3) A 19-year-old football player suffers a fall onto a pronated, extended wrist. He has pain with resisted ulnar deviation and is tender to palpation just distal to the ulnar styloid. He has no tenderness over the extensor carpi ulnaris (ECU) tendon. Current radiographs are shown in in Figures A and B and and MRI of the wrist is shown in FIgure C. Which of the following is the most likely diagnosis? Review Topic


ECU tendon rupture




Triangular fibrocartilaginous complex (TFCC) tear




Hook of hamate fracture




Scapholunate ligament injury




Perilunate dislocation



Select Answer to see Preferred Response


Fall from standing onto an extended and pronated wrist is a risk factor for injuries to the soft tissues of the wrist. The structures at risk include the triangular fibrocartilaginous complex (TFCC), the lunotriquetral ligament, ulnolunate ligament, hook of hamate, ulnar styloid, and the extensor carpi ulnaris (ECU) tendon sheath. Pain with resisted ulnar deviation and ulnar catching are all concerning for injury to the TFCC. MRI is useful for diagnosing TFCC tears ( Illustration A shows another example).

Papapetropoulos et al in their review article discuss the evaluation and arthroscopic treatment of TFCC injuries. Specifically they discuss that most tears in athletes are acute and amenable to repair by repair of the dorsal tear to the ECU tendon sheath.

Cohen in his review of injuries in athletes discusses scapholunate ligament, lunotriquetral ligament, and midcarpal injuries. Of note he divides scapholunate and lunotriquetral ligament injuries into dissociative lesions (abnormal motion within proximal carpal bones) vs. midcarpal lesions which are generally considered nondissociative (abnormal motion between proximal and distal carpal bones).

Rettig in his review of sports injuries of the extremities discusses the Palmer classification of TFCC tears. Specifically he notes that central tears are more associated with repetitive activities in patients with positive ulnar variance.

Incorrect Answers:
Answer 1: The patient is not tender in the region of the ECU tendon sheath.
Answer 3: The carpal tunnel view radiograph shows no hook of hamate fracture.
Answer 4 and 5: Wrist radiographs shows no scapholunate widening or perilunate dislocation. Physical exam in this case is more consistent with a TFCC injury.


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Question COMMENTS (2)

(OBQ05.273) Which of the following structures is an anatomical component of the triangular fibrocartilage complex? Review Topic


Extensor carpi ulnaris tendon sheath




Lunotriquetral interosseous ligament




Extensor digiti minimi tendon sheath




Radioscaphocapitate ligament




Flexor carpi ulnaris tendon sheath



Select Answer to see Preferred Response


The extensor carpi ulnaris tendon sheath is part of the triangular fibrocartilage complex (TFCC).

Palmer et al studied the anatomy and function of the TFCC through anatomical dissections and biomechanical testing. The TFCC was found to be composed of the sheath of the extensor carpi ulnaris (ECU), an articular disc, the dorsal and volar radioulnar ligaments, the meniscus homologue, and the ulnar collateral ligament. Biomechanically, they determined that the TFCC functions as a cushion at the ulnocarpal interface, and is a major stabilizer of the DRUJ.

Nakamura et al histologically examined the origins and insertions of the TFCC in fresh-frozen cadaver wrists. They found that the floor of the ECU sheath originated from the dorsal side of the fovea of the ulna, through an arrangement of Sharpey's fibers.

Illustration A shows the anatomy of the TFCC.


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