Triangular fibrocartilage complex tears are painful and can affect a person’s ability to use their hand or wrist. But what is a TFCC tear exactly? And how is this injury treated? Understanding what this injury is and how to identify its symptoms can help you resume a pain-free life faster. Explore our guide to TFCC tears and learn how a wrist specialist can help you regain mobility in your wrist.
What Is a TFCC Tear?
The triangular fibrocartilage complex (TFCC) connects the hand and forearm bones to form the wrist. Your TFCC is made up of several ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. It helps your wrist move and stabilizes the forearm when gripping something with your hand or rotating your forearm. A TFCC tear is any injury or damage to this area. There are two types of TFCC tears:
- Type 1: These tears result from a physical injury. This often occurs when a person overextends their wrist or falls on their hand with it extended.
- Type 2: These tears occur gradually and can result from damage due to aging or an underlying health condition, gout or rheumatoid arthritis.
TFCC tears commonly cause pain in the wrist. The pain may be constant or only appear when you apply pressure to your wrist or move it. Other symptoms of a TFCC tear can include:
- Weakness or stiffness in the wrist
- A limited range of motion in the hand or wrist
- Wrist swelling
- Loss of grip strength
- A clicking or popping sound when you move your wrist
Athletes who regularly put pressure on their wrists — like tennis players or gymnasts — have a higher risk of developing a TFCC tear. You are also at a higher risk of a TFCC tear if you have previously injured your wrist.
TFCC Tear Treatment
If you suspect a TFCC tear, the first thing you should do is temporarily stop doing any activities that cause wrist pain to allow the injury to heal. You might need to wear a cast or splint to prevent your wrist from moving. Your wrist specialist will also likely recommend physical therapy. This involves doing gentle exercises to rebuild strength in your TFCC. If non-surgical treatments don’t provide any relief, you may need surgery to repair the tear.
Surgery to treat a TFCC tear involves a minimally invasive procedure called a wrist arthroscopy. During the surgery, your doctor will make several small incisions on the wrist’s outer edge to repair the damaged portion of the TFCC. Sometimes, they may also shorten the ulna — a long bone in the forearm — to alleviate your symptoms. You must wear a cast for a few weeks after the procedure to allow the area to heal.
Recovery usually takes a few weeks for TFCC tears that don’t require surgery. However, it may take anywhere from a few weeks to several months before you regain full use of your wrist if you do need surgery. Doing physical therapy and avoiding activities that strain your wrist can help speed up your recovery time.