The triangular fibrocartilage complex (TFCC) is the cartilage structure located on the ulnar, or pinky, side of a person's wrist. The TFCC cushions and stabilizes the carpal bones of the wrist, which is important for ensuring proper wrist rotation. Tears or damage to the TFCC can lead to pain and problems with wrist function. Dr. Steven Bailey and The Hand Center at Crawford Plastic Surgery has helped numerous patients in the Atlanta, GA area who've suffered from TFCC tears and injuries.
What Is a Triangular Fibrocartilage Complex (TFCC) Tear?
TFCC tears refer to serious injuries that affect the triangular fibrocartilage disc (TFC), the radioulnar ligaments (RUL), and the ulnocarpal ligaments (UCL). Mild injuries to the TFCC are generally classified as a wrist sprain, but tears and severe damage to the TFCC can lead to major problems with the function of the wrist. TFCC tears tend to be more common in people over the age of 50.
Symptoms of Triangular Fibrocartilage Complex (TFCC) Tears
Some of the most common symptoms of TFCC tears include:
- Pain on the pinky side of the wrist
- Pain when bending the wrist
- Swelling of the wrist
- Clicking in the wrist
- Loss of grip strength
Causes of Triangular Fibrocartilage Complex (TFCC) Tears
TFCC tears are often caused by trauma to the wrist. This may include falls, various kinds of sports injuries, vehicle accidents, and repetitive stress on the wrist. Torquing motions and the vibration of power tools in particular can contribute to wear on the TFCC and lead to eventual tears. Inflammatory disorders have also been linked to TFCC tears.
Types of Triangular Fibrocartilage Complex (TFCC) Tears
In general, TFCC tears can be classified based on their cause.
- Type 1: Traumatic TFCC Tears: These kinds of TFCC tears are the result of physical trauma or repetitive stress on the structures of the wrist.
- Type 2: Degenerative or Chronic TFCC Tears: These kinds of TFCC tears are the result of gradual degeneration of the cartilage over time. Conditions such as gout and rheumatoid arthritis can also lead to Type 2 TFCC tears.
Triangular Fibrocartilage Complex (TFCC) Tear Diagnosis
When diagnosing TFCC tears, we will use different kinds of imaging technology to assess the structures of the wrist. An MRI scan will allow us to note problems with the cartilage and other soft tissues of the wrist. X-rays will also be taken to check on the condition of the ulna (the smaller bone of the forearm) and the carpal bones that comprise the wrist.
Doctors will also note a patient's medical history to see if degenerative or inflammatory conditions have played a part in the TFCC tear.
Treatment of Triangular Fibrocartilage Complex (TFCC) Tears
TFCC tears are first treated with non-surgical means. This typically involves the use of a splint or cast to stabilize the wrist, in the hopes that the soft tissues heal on their own. Cortisone injections and the use of anti-inflammatory drugs can help manage symptoms of a tear.
If non-surgical approaches are ineffective, arthroscopic wrist surgery is the ideal treatment option. Arthroscopic surgery is performed through a series of small incisions using a tiny camera known as an arthroscope. Working through these incisions, a surgeon will carefully adjust the ligaments, cartilage, and other soft tissues of the TFCC.
Recovery after Triangular Fibrocartilage Complex (TFCC) Tear Surgery
After TFCC tear surgery, patients will wear a cast to keep their wrist, hand, and forearm stabilized. The cast is typically worn for six weeks. After the cast is removed, patients will undergo physical therapy to restore flexibility and strength to their wrist.
Contact The Hand Center at Crawford Plastic Surgery to learn more about TFCC tears and the treatment options available.