Radiocarpal joint

The radiocarpal joint is a major synovial joint of the wrist and is an example of a condyloid joint.

Gross anatomy


The joint occurs proximally between the concave surface of the distal end of the radius and the articular disc of the distal radioulnar joint, and distally by the oval shaped convex surface of the proximal carpal row (the scaphoid, lunate and triquetral bones).

  • flexion
    • flexor digitorum superficialis
    • flexor digitorum profundus
    • palmaris longus
    • flexor carpi radialis and ulnaris (when contracting in unison)
  • extension
  • adduction / ulnar deviation
    • flexor carpi ulnaris and extensor carpi ulnaris (when contracting in unison)
  • abduction / radial deviation
  • circumduction
    • combinations of the above-mentioned muscles are used to create circular hand motions about the wrist

Key features of the radiocarpal joint:

The distal radius broadens to possess a large articular surface and has a radial styloid process that usually extends 9-12 mm distal to the articular surface of the ulnar. This results in an ulnar slant and palmar inclination at the radiocarpal joint.


Multiple separate ligaments stabilize the adjacent carpal bones to the distal radius.

Volar surface
  • radial collateral ligament: attach to the styloid process
  • radioscaphocapitate ligament
  • radiolunate ligament
  • radioscapholunate ligament
Dorsal surface
  • radioscaphoid ligament
  • radiolunate ligament
  • radiotriquetral ligament
Volar surface
  • flexor digitorum superficialis and profundus tendons
  • flexor carpi radialis and ulnaris tendons
  • flexor pollicis longus tendons
  • palmaris longus tendon
Dorsal surface
  • extensor carpi radialis longus and brevis tendons
  • extensor pollicis longus tendon
  • extensor digitorum tendons
  • extensor indices tendon
  • extensor digiti minimi tendon
  • extensor carpi ulnaris tendon
Radial surface
  • abductor pollicis longus tendon
  • extensor pollicis brevis tendon

The tendon of the brachioradialis muscle attaches to the styloid process of the distal radius. In turn, it does not pass over the radiocarpal joint.


Arterial Supply

Variant anatomy

Ulnar variance refers to the relative positioning of the ulnar and radial articular surfaces at the level of the radiolunate articulation.

  • neutral: same level
  • positive: ulna is distal to the radius
  • negative: ulna is proximal to the radius