WHAT IS A TFCC TEAR?
The triangular fibrocartilage complex (TFCC) is a cartilage structure located on the small finger side of the wrist that, cushions and supports the small carpal bones in the wrist. The TFCC keeps the forearm bones (radius and ulna) stable when the hand grasps or the forearm rotates. An injury or tear to the TFCC can cause chronic wrist pain.
There are two types of TFCC tears:
1. Type 1 tears are called traumatic tears. Falling on an outstretched hand and excessive arm rotation are the most common causes.
2. Type 2 TFCC tears are degenerative or chronic. They can occur over time and with age. The degenerative process wears the cartilage down over time. Some inflammatory disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout, may also contribute to Type 2 TFCC tears.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF A TFCC TEAR?
• Common symptoms of a TFCC tear include:
• Pain, at the base of small finger side of the wrist
• Pain worsens as the wrist is bent from side to side
• Swelling in the wrist
• Painful clicking in the wrist
• Loss of grip strength
WHO IS LIKELY TO GET A TFCC TEAR?
Anyone can get a TCFF tear. It occurs most often in those who fall on an outstretched hand. Athletes are at risk, especially those who use a racquet, bat or club and those who put a lot of pressure on the wrist such as gymnasts. Degenerative tears are more common in people over 50. Medical attention should be sought as soon as possible after an injury to the wrist.
The hand and wrist specialists at TOCA we provide the most advanced treatment options for TFCC tears. Individualized treatment options are developed for each patient to ensure optimal outcomes.
WHAT CA– USES A TFCC TEAR?
TFCC tears are often sustained when a person falls and lands on the hand, bending the wrist backwards. They can also be present in patients with wrist fractures. Degenerative TFCC tears are more common in people over 50. A longer ulna (arm bone on the small finger side of arm) can also contribute to this condition because it puts more pressure on the TFCC.
HOW IS A TFCC TEAR DIAGNOSED?
TFCC tears are diagnosed through careful examination of the wrist. This involves some manipulation to see the extent and location of pain and immobility. An X-ray may be performed to check for fractures and other abnormalities. The most reliable imaging test is an MRI, which allows doctors to inspect the tissue and cartilage to see the extent of the injury. It is important for a patient to see a board certified physician specializing in treating wrist conditions soon after a traumatic injury.
WHAT ARE THE TREATMENTS FOR TFCC TEAR?
Treatment of a TFCC tear depends on stage of severity.
Non-surgical Treatment Options
• Splint or cast
• Anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen
• Cortisone injection
• Ultrasound therapy
• Surgical Treatment Options
If no-operative management fails and the TFC tear is still painful, the next step is often a diagnostic arthroscopy. If there’s just a flap of injured tissue causing the problems, but the DRUJ is stable, the flap can be removed arthroscopically. If the TFC is torn, but the DRUJ is stable, the TFC tear can be repaired arthroscopically. If the TFC is torn and the DRUJ is unstable (loose), an open repair is usually the best treatment. The results from these surgeries are usually very good. If a TFC repair is performed, an above-elbow cast will be used for 4 weeks, and then therapy is started.
Often times, the TFC injury is either caused or exacerbated by the ulna being longer than the radius. In these cases, the ulna may have to be shortened to prevent the TFC from re-tearing. The ulnar shortening can be performed at the same time as the TFC repair. Sometimes, if the relative ulnar length is not too bad, a TFC repair is done without ulnar shortening. In these cases, if pain persists the ulnar shortening is then performed as a 2nd surgery.
Ulnar shortenings are traditionally done through a long incision: A small length of bone (usually 2-4 mm) is removed from the middle of the ulna and a plate is put on to stabilize the ulna while it heals. A short-arm cast is worn for 6 weeks and heavy activities are avoided until the bone is healed, which can take 3-4 months. However, a newer technique of ulnar shortening can be performed through a smaller incision, with a quicker healing time. In these cases, after 2 weeks only a removable splint is used. The newer type of ulnar shortening usually heals in 6 weeks. Most, but not all, patients will have this newer option available to them.
In summary, TFC tears are very common. Fortunately, there is effective treatment for them. All of the surgeries discussed here are performed as outpatient procedures (you go home the same day), and newer techniques are available that allow patients to return to activities quicker, with fewer problems.
At TOCA (The Orthopedic Clinic Association) we have some of Arizona’s most experienced physicians who treat triangular fibrocartilage complex injuries, in addition to other hand and wrist injuries, degenerative diseases and many other orthopedic needs.
To schedule an appointment contact our dedicated TOCA Team at 602-277-6211! You can also learn more about our Orthopedic Hand & Wrists Specialists here on our TOCA website.
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