History and Physical Examination

History and Physical Examination

Craig M. Rodner

Christian A. Merrill


The aim of this chapter is to provide a systematic guide and template on which to perform a history and physical (H&P) examination in the setting of hand and wrist trauma. For all hand and wrist injuries, obtaining a thorough H&P is essential to establishing the correct diagnosis and making the appropriate treatment decision.


  • When performing the physical examination (PE), it is always important to remove all jewelry, clothing, bandages, splints, or other impedances such that the entire extremity could be examined. It is important to take a systematic approach to examining the fingers, hand, and wrist. The contralateral limb can always provide a reference for examination and can be examined first. It is often best to have the patient demonstrate the site of maximum pain by pointing with one finger and then approach this site last during examination.

  • Inspection

    • Traumatic wound

      • Type—laceration, crush, inoculation, penetrating, avulsion, necrotic, caustic, burn

      • Size—estimate/measure (cm)

      • Shape—linear, stellate, complex, poke-hole, injection

      • Location—volar, dorsum, zone of injury (Figure 1.1)

      • What is exposed? Subcutaneous tissue, fat, muscle, tendon, bone, nerves, vessels

    • Swelling—diffuse versus localized

    • Deformity

      • Natural resting position of hand—gentle flexion at the metacarpophalangeal (MCP), proximal interphalangeal (PIP), and distal interphalangeal (DIP) joints

      • Natural resting position of wrist—slight extension and ulnar deviation

      • Coronal, sagittal, rotational deformities notable to contralateral

    • Skin—color changes, hair loss, scar, wounds/sinus tracts

    • Atrophy

      • Hand—thenar, hypothenar, interosseous musculature

      • Forearm—flexor and extensor compartments

  • Palpation—assess tenderness, defects, step-offs, fluctuance, wounds

    • Hand—metacarpals, phalanges, MCPs, PIPs, and DIPs (Figures 1.2 and 1.4)

    • Nail—eponychium, paronychium, nail plate, and nail bed (Figure 1.3)

    • Digit—pulp, flexor tendon sheath, flexor tendon pulleys

    • Palm—thenar/hypothenar eminence

    • Dorsal wrist (Figures 1.2 and 1.4)

      • Distal radius—radial styloid, Lister tubercle

        • Distal radioulnar joint (DRUJ)

      • Distal ulna—ulna head, ulnar styloid

        • Triangular fibrocartilage complex

      • Carpal bones—scaphoid (proximal pole and waist), lunate, trapezium, trapezoid, capitate, hamate

      • Carpometacarpal joints—thumb, index, middle, ring, small finger

      • Extensor compartments: (1) abductor pollicis longus (APL) and extensor pollicis brevis (EPB); (2) extensor carpi radialis brevis (ECRB) and longus (ECRL); (3) extensor pollicis longus (EPL); (4) extensor digitorum communis (EDC) and extensor indicis proprius (EIP); (5) extensor digiti minimi (EDM); (6) extensor carpi ulnaris (ECU)

        • Anatomic snuff box—between first and second extensor compartment

    • Volar wrist (Figures 1.2 and 1.4)

      • Carpal bones—scaphoid (tuberosity), trapezial ridge, pisiform, hook of hamate

      • Tendons—flexor carpi radialis (FCR), palmaris longus, flexor carpi ulnaris (FCU)

      • Neurovascular—radial and ulnar artery; median and ulnar nerve

    • Mass—tenderness, consistency, mobility, compressibility, transillumination, pulsatileness, sinus tract

    • Probing—explore wound with cotton tip applicator

  • Range of motion —assess both passive and active; assess smoothness of motion, abnormal movement, lack of movement, rotational deformity, scissoring (Table 1.1)

    • Passive tenodesis—fingers will flex with wrist passively extended and extend with passive flexion of the wrist (assess for tendon laceration) (Figure 1.5)

      • Lack of tenodesis—disruption of tendon or musculotendinous junction

    • Hand—make full fist, open completely

      • All fingertips should touch palm, fingertips point toward scaphoid tubercle (assess rotational deformities)

    • Wrist—move in all planes of motion

  • Muscular examination (Table 1.2)

    • Flexors

      • FCR—make a fist and flex wrist, ulnar deviation of the wrist is indicative of weak or incompetent FCR. Strength against resistance in wrist flexion and radial deviation.

      • FCU—make a fist and flex wrist, radial deviation of the wrist is indicative of weak or incompetent FCU. Strength against resistance in wrist flexion and ulnar deviation.

      • Flexor digitorum superficialis (FDS)—flex PIP joint of each individual digit while all other digits’ MCP joint is stabilized in extension (Figure 1.6)

        • Prevents flexor digitorum profundus (FDP) from flexing because of quadriga effect because FDP tendons are connected to a single unit compared to FDS

      • FDP—flex DIP joint of each individual digit while PIP joint is stabilized in extension (Figure 1.7)

      • Flexor pollicis longus—flex interphalangeal (IP) joint of thumb while stabilizing thumb at proximal phalanx

    • Extensors

May 7, 2019 | Posted by in ORTHOPEDIC | Comments Off on History and Physical Examination
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