Changes in geometry of the finger flexor tendons in the carpal tunnel with wrist posture and tendon load: an MRI study on normal wrists
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OBJECTIVES: (1) To develop a methodology to determine the trajectories of the digital flexor tendons using MRI. (2) To examine changes in tendon trajectories due to wrist posture, with and without pinch force. (3) To calculate the radius of curvature of the flexor tendons and note implications for contact forces on the median nerve. (4) To assess the use of Landsmeer's models at the wrist. DESIGN: Finger flexor tendon centroids were digitized from magnetic resonance images of the carpal tunnel and the tendon paths were determined analytically. Radii of curvature were calculated from the tendon paths. BACKGROUND: Landsmeer's models of joint-tendon interaction (Landsmeer, 1961) have been used to determine moment arms and radius of curvature of the tendon paths about articulations. An explanation for a biomechanical cause of work-related carpal tunnel syndrome originated from these models. METHODS: Three healthy male participants had their right wrist scanned while splinted in four wrist postures (flexed to 20 degrees, 45 degrees, neutral, extended to 20 degrees ) with and without maintaining a 10 N pinch grip. 20-24 cross-sectional images were used for each condition. RESULTS: Volar movement of the tendons was seen with wrist flexion and the opposite was true with extension. Tendon intersection angles were calculated between the tendon as it entered the carpal tunnel and as it exited the tunnel and were 50-65% of the wrist angle (R(2)=0.81-0.96). The radius of curvature was smallest (mean=82-127 mm) with an active pinch grip with the wrist splinted at 45 degrees of flexion (mean actual wrist angle 37 degrees ). CONCLUSIONS: The radius of flexor tendon curvature is not constant as previously assumed and is larger than previous estimates. The addition of tendon force with the wrist flexed acts to reduce the radius of curvature which further increases the contact stress on the median nerve and other wrist structures. The use of MRI to determine the tendon paths has provided new insight into the relationships between the finger flexor tendons and other structures at the wrist. RELEVANCE: These findings provide data for biomechanical models of the carpal tunnel and predict the possible pathophysiology of work-related carpal tunnel syndrome.
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