Metacarpal bones

In human anatomy, the metacarpal bones or metacarpus, form the intermediate part of the skeletal hand located between the phalanges of the fingers and the carpal bones of the wrist which forms the connection to the forearm The metacarpal bones are equivalent to the metatarsal bones in the foot


  • 1 Structure
    • 11 Body
    • 12 Base
    • 13 Head
    • 14 Articulations
    • 15 Insertions
  • 2 Clinical significance
    • 21 Congenital disorders
    • 22 Fracture
  • 3 Other animals
  • 4 History
    • 41 Etymology
  • 5 Additional images
  • 6 See also
  • 7 References


Left hand shown with thumb on left

The metacarpals form a transverse arch to which the rigid row of distal carpal bones are fixed The peripheral metacarpals those of the thumb and little finger form the sides of the cup of the palmar gutter and as they are brought together they deepen this concavity The index metacarpal is the most firmly fixed, while the thumb metacarpal articulates with the trapezium and acts independently from the others The middle metacarpals are tightly united to the carpus by intrinsic interlocking bone elements at their bases The ring metacarpal forms a transitional element of the semi-independent last metacarpal[1]

Each metacarpal bone consists of a body and two extremities head and base


The body; shaft is prismoid in form, and curved, so as to be convex in the longitudinal direction behind, concave in front It presents three surfaces: medial, lateral, and dorsal

  • The medial and lateral surfaces are concave, for the attachment of the interosseus muscles, and separated from one another by a prominent anterior ridge
  • The dorsal surface presents in its distal two-thirds a smooth, triangular, flattened area which is covered in by the tendons of the extensor muscles This surface is bounded by two lines, which commence in small tubercles situated on either side of the digital extremity, and, passing upward, converge and meet some distance above the center of the bone and form a ridge which runs along the rest of the dorsal surface to the carpal extremity This ridge separates two sloping surfaces for the attachment of the interossei dorsales
  • To the tubercles on the digital extremities are attached the collateral ligaments of the metacarpophalangeal joints



The base or carpal extremity basis is of a cuboidal form, and broader behind than in front: it articulates with the carpal bones, and with the adjoining metacarpal bones; its dorsal and volar surfaces are rough, for the attachment of ligaments



The head or digital extremity caput or neck per ICD-9 coding presents an oblong surface markedly convex from before backward, less so transversely, and flattened from side to side; it articulates with the proximal phalanx It is broader, and extends farther upward, on the volar than on the dorsal aspect, and is longer in the antero-posterior than in the transverse diameter On either side of the head is a tubercle for the attachment of the collateral ligament of the metacarpophalangeal joint

The dorsal surface, broad and flat, supports the tendons of the extensor muscles

The volar surface is grooved in the middle line for the passage of the flexor tendons, and marked on either side by an articular eminence continuous with the terminal articular surface



Besides the metacarpophalangeal joints, the metacarpal bones articulate by carpometacarpal joints as follows:

  1. the first with the trapezium;
  2. the second with the trapezium, trapezoid, capitate and third metacarpal;
  3. the third with the capitate and second and fourth metacarpals;
  4. the fourth with the capitate, hamate, and third and fifth metacarpals;
  5. and the fifth with the hamate and fourth metacarpal;


Extensor Carpi Radialis Longus/Brevis: Both insert on the base of metacarpal II; Assist with wrist extension and radial flexion of the wrist

Extensor Carpi Ulnaris: Inserts on the base of metacarpal V; Extends and fixes wrist when digits are being flexed; assists with ulnar flexion of wrist

Abductor Pollicis Longus: Inserts on the trapezium and base of metacarpal I; Abducts thumb in frontal plane; extends thumb at carpometacarpal joint

Opponens Pollicis: Inserts on metacarpal I; flexes metacarpal I to oppose the thumb to the fingertips

Opponens digiti minimi: Inserts on the medial surface of metacarpal V; Flexes metacarpal V at carpometacarpal joint when little finger is moved into opposition with tip of thumb; deepens palm of hand[3]

Clinical significance

Congenital disorders

The fourth and fifth metacarpal bones are commonly "blunted" or shortened, in pseudohypoparathyroidism and pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism

A blunted fourth metacarpal, with normal fifth metacarpal, can signify Turner syndrome

Blunted metacarpals particularly the fourth metacarpal are a symptom of Nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome


The neck of a metacarpal in the transition between the body and the head is a common location for a boxer's fracture

Other animals

The principle of homology illustrated by the adaptive radiation of the metacarpal bones of mammals All conform to the basic pentadactyl pattern but are modified for different usages The third metacarpal is shaded throughout; the shoulder is crossed-hatched

In four-legged animals, the metacarpals form part of the forefeet, and are frequently reduced in number, appropriate to the number of toes In digitigrade and unguligrade animals, the metacarpals are greatly extended and strengthened, forming an additional segment to the limb, a feature that typically enhances the animal's speed In both birds and bats, the metacarpals form part of the wing



The Greek physician Galen used to refer to the metacarpus as μετακάρπιον[4][5] The Latin form metacarpium [4][6][7][8] more truly resembles[4] its Ancient Greek predecessor μετακάρπιον than metacarpus[9][10]Meta– is Greek for beyond and carpal from Ancient Greek καρπός karpós, “wrist” In anatomic Latin, adjectives like metacarpius,[11] metacarpicus,[12] metacarpiaeus,[13] metacarpeus,[14] metacarpianus [15] and metacarpalis [10] can be found The form metacarpius is more true[7][11] to the later Greek form μετακάρπιος[11] Metacarpalis, as in ossa metacarpalia in the current official Latin nomenclature, Terminologia Anatomica [10] is a compound consisting of Latin and Greek part[12] The usage of such hybrids in anatomic Latin is disapproved by some[7][12]

Additional images

See also

This article uses anatomical terminology; for an overview, see Anatomical terminology
  • Carpometacarpal bossing


This article incorporates text in the public domain from the 20th edition of Gray's Anatomy 1918

  1. ^ Tubiana et al 1998, p 11
  2. ^ a b c Gray's Anatomy See infobox
  3. ^ Saladin, Kenneth S "Capt 10" Anatomy & Physiology: the Unity of Form and Function Dubuque: McGraw-Hill, 2010 361-64 Print
  4. ^ a b c Hyrtl, J 1880 Onomatologia Anatomica Geschichte und Kritik der anatomischen Sprache der Gegenwart Wien: Wilhelm Braumüller KK Hof- und Universitätsbuchhändler
  5. ^ Liddell, HG & Scott, R 1940 A Greek-English Lexicon revised and augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie Oxford: Clarendon Press
  6. ^ Schreger, CHTh1805 Synonymia anatomica Synonymik der anatomischen Nomenclatur Fürth: im Bureau für Literatur
  7. ^ a b c Triepel, H 1908 Memorial on the anatomical nomenclature of the anatomical society In A Rose Ed, Medical Greek Collection of papers on medical onomatology and a grammatical guide to learn modern Greek pp 176-193 New York: Peri Hellados publication office
  8. ^ Triepel, H 1910 Nomina Anatomica Mit Unterstützung von Fachphilologen Wiesbaden: Verlag JF Bergmann
  9. ^ His, W 1895 Die anatomische Nomenclatur Nomina Anatomica Der von der Anatomischen Gesellschaft auf ihrer IX Versammlung in Basel angenommenen Namen Leipzig: Verlag Veit & Comp
  10. ^ a b c Federative Committee on Anatomical Terminology FCAT 1998 Terminologia Anatomica Stuttgart: Thieme
  11. ^ a b c Triepel, H 1910 Die anatomischen Namen Ihre Ableitung und Aussprache Mit einem Anhang: Biographische NotizenDritte Auflage Wiesbaden: Verlag JF Bergmann
  12. ^ a b c Triepel, H & Stieve, H 1936 Die anatomischen Namen Ihre Ableitung und Aussprache Anhang: Eigennamen, die früher in der Anatomie verwendet wurdenAchtzehnte Auflage Berlin/Heidelberg:Springer-Verlag
  13. ^ Siebenhaar, FJ 1850 Terminologisches Wörterbuch der medicinischen Wissenschaften Zweite Auflage Leipzig: Arnoldische Buchhandlung
  14. ^ International Anatomical Nomenclature Committee 1966 Nomina Anatomica Amsterdam: Excerpta Medica Foundation
  15. ^ Foster, FD 1891-1893 An illustrated medical dictionary Being a dictionary of the technical terms used by writers on medicine and the collateral sciences, in the Latin, English, French, and German languages New York: D Appleton and Company
  • Tubiana, Raoul; Thomine, Jean-Michel; Mackin, Evelyn 1998 Examination of the Hand and Wrist Taylor & Francis ISBN 1-85317-544-7 

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