Bones, Joints, And Muscles Of The Hand And Wrist

Hand and Wrist Anatomy

Our hands and wrists are often parts of our anatomy that we take for granted, until something starts to hurt or dysfunction. We use them for fine movements like writing and for more gross movements like picking up objects or holding the steering wheel. We even use our hands and wrists to support us in weight-bearing in sports like gymnastics or activities like yoga.

Whether we’re interested in hand and wrist function or whether we’re concerned about dysfunction, it’s important to remember that the hand and wrist don’t exist in isolation. They’re located at the end of a functional chain of joints which begins at the shoulder and includes the elbow in the middle of that chain. Let’s take a look at what bony structures and joints make up hand and wrist anatomy. We’ll start with the most proximal structures and then make our way distally.

Joints of the wrist and hand

Most proximally, we have the distal radioulnar joint. This is where the distal ends of the radius and ulna rotate around one another to allow for pronation and supination of the forearm. Next, we come to the “true wrist joint.” This is an ellipsoidal joint where the distal end of the radius meets three of the four proximal carpal bones (they are the scaphoid, lunate and triquetral bones). 

Following that, we come to the joints where the four proximal carpal bones then meet the row of four distal carpal bones. Next in line, as we go distally, are the five metacarpals. These five metacarpal bones articulate at five joints (our knuckles) with our five proximal phalanges. Along with our other phalanges, we then have what are otherwise known as our fingers.

Movements at the wrist joint

Movements at the wrist all have more than one name.

  • Flexion of the wrist is also called palmar flexion.
  • Extension of the wrist is also called dorsi flexion.
  • Ulnar deviation is also referred to as adduction.
  • Radial deviation is also referred to as abduction.

All of these movements combined will give us circumduction of the wrist.

Muscles of the hand and wrist

There are many muscles that make up the hand and wrist. We won’t try to list every single one here. Muscles of the hand and wrist can more generally be grouped into wrist flexors, wrist extensors, and muscles that move the fingers and/or thumb. Keep in mind that, of course, some muscles contribute to more than one action. 

Wrist flexors

  • Palmaris longus
  • Flexor carpi radialis
  • Flexor carpi ulnaris
  • Flexor digitorum superficialis
  • Flexor digitorum profundus
  • Flexor pollicis longus

Wrist extensors

  • Extensor carpi radialis longus
  • Extensor carpi radialis brevis
  • Extensor digitorum
  • Extensor digiti minimi
  • Extensor pollicis brevis
  • Extensor indicis
  • Extensor carpi ulnaris

Muscles that move the fingers and/or thumb

  • Abductor pollicis longus
  • Extensor pollicis brevis
  • Extensor indicis
  • Opponens pollicis
  • Flexor pollicis brevis
  • Adductor pollicis
  • (And some other small muscles which we will not list here.)


We use our wrists and hands for so many necessary daily activities. And even the simple things we do with our hands require a complicated interaction of multiple muscles. This long list of wrist flexors, wrist extensors, and muscles that move the fingers and thumb combine to allow us to do all of the many types of movement that we do with our hand and wrist. Next time you type on a keyboard or send a text message, think about how many muscles you're using!

If you want to learn more about the anatomical structures in the body, where they're located, and how they move, check out our recent posts!

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