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TFCC tear: Symptoms, treatment, surgery, and recovery

The triangular fibrocartilage complex (TFCC) is a network of ligaments, tendons, and cartilage that sits between the ulna and radius bones on the small finger side of the wrist.

The TFCC stabilizes and cushions the wrist, particularly when a person rotates their hand or grasps something with it.

Due to its structural complexity, the TFCC is vulnerable to damage, and injuries are common.

In this article, we discuss the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of TFCC tears. We also cover estimated recovery time and some rehabilitation exercises.

What is TFCC tear?

The TFCC connects the bones in the hand to the bones in the forearm to form the wrist. It plays an important role in:

  • moving the wrist
  • rotating the forearm
  • supporting the forearm when the palm is gripping an object

A TFCC tear is any injury or damage to the TFCC. There are two types of TFCC tear:

  • Type 1. These tears result from physical injury, such as when a person overextends or over-rotates their wrist, or when they fall on their hand with it extended.
  • Type 2. Also called chronic tears, these occur gradually and can result from damage due to aging or an underlying condition, such as gout or rheumatoid arthritis.

Accurate classification of a TFCC tear is important for guiding treatment decisions.


TFCC tears commonly cause pain along the outside of the wrist. Other symptoms can include:

  • stiffness or weakness in the wrist
  • pain when touching or moving the wrist
  • a limited range of motion in the hand or wrist
  • wrist swelling
  • a clicking or popping sound when moving the wrist

The wrist is one of the most complex joints in the body. This makes it prone to sprains and injuries.

TFCC tears can occur due to physical injuries, excessive use, or the aging process.

Factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing a TFCC tear include:

  • Age. TFCC tears are more common as a person gets older. This may be due to natural wear and tear, or because the body becomes less able to repair damage to the TFCC.
  • Chronic inflammation. Inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout can damage the wrist over time. A small retrospective study found that 38.9 percent of people with severe rheumatoid arthritis developed TFCC tears.
  • Playing sports. People who play sports such as baseball, football, or tennis have a higher risk of injuring their wrists. Research suggests that around 25 percent of sports injuries affect the hand or wrist.

Doing some gentle exercises can help restore mobility and strength to the wrist following a TFCC tear. Exercises can include:

  • bending the wrist forward and backward
  • rotating the wrist while keeping the forearm straight
  • rotating the forearm by bending the arm at the elbow and extending the forearm, wrist, and hand in a straight line, then rotating the entire forearm from a palm-up position to a palm-down position, and then back again
  • picking up and gently squeezing a tennis ball


TFCC tears are often painful and can affect a person’s ability to use their hand or wrist. They can result from sports injuries, overuse of the wrist, and inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. TFCC tears are also more common in older people.

TFCC tears often get better without treatment, but a person will need to avoid using their wrist while the injury heals.

For severe or persistent tears, a doctor may recommend surgery or physical therapy.

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