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Skeletal Radiol. 2013 Aug;42(8):1105-12. doi: 10.1007/s00256-013-1633-4. Epub 2013 May 15.

The carpometacarpal joint of the thumb: MR appearance in asymptomatic volunteers.

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  • 1Department of Radiology, Orthopedic University Hospital Balgrist, University of Zurich, Forchstrasse 340, 8008, Zurich, Switzerland.



To prospectively characterize the MR appearance of the carpometacarpal (CMC) joint of the thumb in asymptomatic volunteers.


Thirty-four asymptomatic volunteers (17 women, 17 men, mean age, 33.9 ± 9.2 years) underwent MR imaging of the thumb after approval by the local ethical committee. Two musculoskeletal radiologists independently classified visibility and signal intensity (SI) characteristics of the anterior oblique (AOL/beak ligament), the posterior oblique (POL), the intermetacarpal (IML), and the dorsoradial ligaments (DRL) on a three-point Likert scale. The thickness of all ligaments, cartilage integrity, and presence of joint fluid were assessed. The alignment of the first metacarpal base with the trapezium was quantified on sagittal and coronal planes.


The ligaments of the CMC joint were constantly visible in all volunteers for the POL and IML, and in all but one for the AOL and DRL. On intermediate-weighted fat-saturated images the POL (65 %/74 % reader 1/reader 2) and DRL (58 %/64 %) were commonly of increased SI, while the IML had a striated appearance in 91 %/76 % of subjects. The AOL showed a variable SI (36 %/42 % low, 27 %/27 % increased, 36 %/30 % striated). The IML was the thickest ligament with a mean of 2.9 mm/3.1 mm and the DRL the thinnest (1.2 mm/1.4 mm). There was a mean dorsal subluxation of 1.8 mm/2.0 mm and radial subluxation of 2.8 mm/3.4 mm of the metacarpal base. The AOL was significantly thicker in men (1.7 mm) than in women (1.2 mm; p = 0.02). Radial subluxation was significantly larger in men (3.4 mm) than in women (2.2 mm; p = 0.02). No subluxation in palmar or ulnar direction was seen.


Radial and dorsal subluxation of the CMC joint can be a normal finding in a resting position at MR imaging. The CMC ligaments showed a considerable variability of signal intensity with a typically striated IML; thickness of the AOL is typically less than 2.2 mm, of the POL typically less than 2.9 mm.

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