Feeling pain on the pinkie side of your wrist? You might have a TFCC wrist injury
The TFCC, or Triangular Fibrocartilage Complex, is situated on the outside of the wrist near the pinkie finger. This load-bearing cartilage structure cushions and supports the small carpal bones of the wrist and helps to stabilize the ends of the radius and ulna when the hand is gripping, or when the forearm rotates. The TFCC is only about the size of a dime, but if it’s injured it can become a source of chronic pain.
How is the TFCC injured?
The most common cause of TFCC wrist injury is falling on an outstretched hand. Another common cause is repetitive motion, especially involving forearm rotation. A TFCC tear may also coincide with an inflammatory disorder such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Signs and Symptoms of a TFCC Tear
The main symptom of a TFCC tear is pain along the pinkie side of your wrist, though you might also feel pain throughout your entire wrist. The pain may be constant or only appear when you move your wrist or apply pressure to it. Others symptoms of a TFCC tear may include some or all of the following:
- Clicking or popping while turning the forearm or moving the wrist from side to side
- Stiffness or weakness in the wrist
- Limited range of motion in the hand or wrist
Types of TFCC Tears
There are two types of TFCC tears, depending on the cause:
- Type 1 TFCC tears. These tears are caused by an injury. For example, falling and landing on an outstretched hand, a twisting injury, or a fracture at the end of the radius can damage the cartilage, tendons, or ligaments in your TFCC.
- Type 2 TFCC tears. These tears are caused by the slow breakdown of the cartilage in your TFCC, usually due to age or an underlying condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout.
Who is Likely to get a TFCC Tear?
- Athletes are at risk, especially those who use a racquet, bat, or a club.
- Those who put a lot of pressure on the wrist such as gymnasts and yoga enthusiasts
- People who work in fields involving repetitive motion like carpenters, assembly line workers, cashiers, or computer programmers
- Degenerative tears are more common in people over 50
Diagnosing a TFCC Tear
It can be difficult to find the cause of ulnar-sided wrist pain in the area of the TFCC since there are other conditions in this area that can cause similar problems. A doctor may use special wrist examination methods such as a compression, stress, fovea, supination, piano key, or grind test to diagnose a TFCC tear. X-rays might be taken. Sometimes other studies such as a CT scan or MRI might be needed.
Treating the TFCC Wrist Injury
Your doctor or physical therapist will suggest treatments and exercises that over time will help to return you to normal function, including:
- Short-term activity modifications
- Anti-inflammatory medication or corticosteroid injections
- Physical Therapy
- Splinting or bracing to immobilize the wrist
- In some cases, surgery
The techniques used to repair TFCC tears will depend on the exact location and severity of the tear. If surgery is required, a wrist brace or splint is usually worn for up to six weeks postoperatively. After this time, your doctor or physical therapist will recommend a plan for helping you to recover through exercises or other therapy.