A thorough understanding of anatomy is critical for successful carpal tunnel release. Several texts depict the median nerve (MN) as taking a course parallel to the long axis of the forearm (LAF). The authors report on their attempt to formally assess the course of the MN as it travels to the carpal tunnel in the distal wrist and discuss its potential clinical significance.
The width of the wrist, the distance from the radial wrist to the MN, and the distance from the distal volar wrist crease to the point where the MN emerges between the flexor carpi radialis (FCR) tendon and the flexor digitorum superficialis (FDS) tendons were recorded during cadaveric dissection of 76 wrist specimens. The presence or absence of palmaris longus was documented. Finally, the angles between the MN and FCR tendon and between the MN and the LAF were measured using ImageJ.
The relative position of the MN at the distal wrist crease, as determined by the ratio of the distance from the MN to the radial wrist divided by wrist width, revealed a mean value of 0.48, indicating that the nerve was usually located just radial to midline. The mean distance between the distal wrist crease and the MN's emergence was 34.6 mm. The mean angle between the MN and the FCR tendon was 14.1°. The angle between the MN and the LAF had a mean value of 8.8° (range 0.0°–32.2°). The nerve was parallel to the LAF in only 10.7% of the studied wrists. Palmaris longus was absent in 14 (18.4%) of the 76 wrists.
The MN takes an angular approach to the carpal tunnel in the distal wrist in the vast majority of cases. This newly described finding will be useful to both clinicians and anatomists.