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Musculoskeletal ultrasound of the wrist

Blake Reid Boggess, DO, FAAFP
Section Editor
Karl B Fields, MD
Deputy Editor
Jonathan Grayzel, MD, FAAEM


The wrist and proximal hand are susceptible to a variety of injuries and conditions. Due to the relatively superficial location of many wrist and hand structures, many of these pathologic conditions can be diagnosed or assessed using ultrasound (US).

This topic will review a standard, systematic approach to musculoskeletal ultrasonography of the wrist and proximal hand. Topics devoted to conditions and injuries involving the wrist and hand pain are found separately. (See "Evaluation of the adult with subacute or chronic wrist pain" and "Evaluation of the adult with acute wrist pain" and "History and examination of the adult with hand pain".)


Musculoskeletal ultrasound (US) uses high frequency sound waves (1 to 20 megahertz, MHz) to produce high-resolution images of soft-tissue structures (eg, nerves, tendons, muscles, ligaments, bursae) and bony surfaces. The basic physical principles and underlying technology of US are reviewed in detail separately. (See "Basic principles and safety of diagnostic ultrasound in obstetrics and gynecology".)

US has many advantages over other imaging modalities, including portability and point of care diagnosis [1]. Many of these general advantages are discussed separately. (See "Musculoskeletal ultrasound of the shoulder", section on 'Uses, advantages, and limitations of shoulder ultrasound'.)

For evaluation of the wrist and proximal hand in particular, US offers the ability to visualize small joints and articulations, and adjacent structures, both statically and dynamically (ie, visualize while the joint or articulation is manipulated) with resolution that is the equal of (or sometimes superior to) magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Imaging of structures like the median nerve or the ulnar collateral ligament of the thumb can be performed in a number of ways from different perspectives, providing sufficient diagnostic accuracy to forego additional diagnostic testing. As an example, serial measurements of the circumferential volume of the median nerve obtained using short-axis US views can demonstrate areas of enlargement or compression, while long-axis views can confirm the appearance of the nerve and the site of compression. These measurements enable the clinician to diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome with an accuracy comparable to electrodiagnostic testing [2].

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Oct 06, 2016.
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