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Hand Clin. 2002 May;18(2):219-30.

Practical anatomy of the carpal tunnel.

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Orthopedic Center of St. Louis, 10 Barnes West Ave., Suite 200, St. Louis, MO 63141, USA.


The carpal tunnel is most narrow at the level of the hook of the hamate. The median nerve is the most superficial structure. It has specific relationships to surrounding structures within the carpal tunnel to the ulnar bursa, flexor tendons, and endoscopic devices placed inside the canal. The importance of the ring finger axis is stressed. Knowledge of topographical landmarks that mark the borders of the carpal tunnel, the hook of the hamate, superficial arch, and thenar branch of the median nerve ensure appropriate incision placement for endoscopic as well as open carpal tunnel release surgery. Anatomy of the transverse carpal ligament, its layers and relationships to adjacent structures including the fad pad, Guyon's canal, palmar fascia, and thenar muscles has been discussed. Fibers derived primarily from thenar muscle fascia with connections to the hypothenar muscle fascia and dorsal fascia of the palmaris brevis form a separate fascial layer directly palmar to the TCL and can be retained. This helps to preserve postoperative pinch strength. The fat pad in line with the ring finger axis overlaps the deep surface of the distal edge of the TCL and must be retracted in order to visualize the distal end of the ligament. Whereas the ulnar artery within Guyon's canal is frequently located radial to the hook of the hamate, injury to this structure has not been a problem during ECTR surgery. Variations of the median nerve and its branches, as well as the palmar cutaneous nerve distribution, have been reviewed. A rare ulnar-sided thenar branch from the median nerve, interconnecting branches between the ulnar and median nerves located just distal to the end of the TCL, and transverse ulnar-based cutaneous nerves can be injured during open or ECTR surgery. Anomalous muscles, tendons or interconnections, and the lumbricals during finger flexion may be seen within the carpal tunnel. These structures can be the cause of compression of the median nerve. The anatomy of the carpal tunnel and surrounding structures have been reviewed with emphasis on clinical applications to endoscopic and open carpal tunnel surgery. A thorough knowledge of the anatomy of the carpal tunnel is essential in order to avoid complications and to ensure optimal patient outcome. An understanding of the contents and their positions and relationships to each other allows the surgeon to perform a correct approach and accurately identify structures during procedures at or near the carpal tunnel.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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