Metacarpophalangeal Joint

The metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joint, plays an important role in the movement and flexibility of our fingers. Many of the abnormalities that affect the joint use imaging tests for diagnosis.  This article aims to provide a detailed overview of the MCP joint, its anatomy, functions, and common conditions that may affect it.

What is the Metacarpophalangeal Joint?

The metacarpophalangeal joint, often shortened to MCP joint, is a joint that connects the metacarpal bones of the hand to the proximal phalanges (the bones in the fingers closest to the hand). There are five MCP joints in each hand, one for each finger.

Anatomy of the MCP Joint

The MCP joint is a complex structure that involves several components:

  1. Bones: The joint is formed by the head of the metacarpal bone and the base of the proximal phalange.
  2. Articular Cartilage: Smooth, protective cartilage covers the ends of the bones, allowing for smooth movement and reducing friction.
  3. Joint Capsule: A fibrous capsule surrounds the joint, providing stability and containing synovial fluid.
  4. Ligaments: The collateral ligaments on either side of the joint and the palmar ligaments on the palm side provide additional support and stability.
  5. Tendons: The tendons of the flexor and extensor muscles cross over the MCP joint, enabling finger movement.

Functions of the MCP Joint

The primary function of the MCP joint is to facilitate the movement of the fingers. Specifically, it allows for:

  1. Flexion: Bending the fingers towards the palm.
  2. Extension: Straightening the fingers away from the palm.
  3. Abduction: Spreading the fingers apart.
  4. Adduction: Bringing the fingers together.

These movements are essential for various activities, such as grasping objects, typing, playing musical instruments, and performing intricate tasks that require fine movement.

Imaging the MCP Joint

Imaging techniques play an important role in diagnosing and monitoring conditions affecting the MCP joint. Some of the commonly used imaging modalities include:


X-rays are often the initial imaging technique used to assess the MCP joint. They can detect bone abnormalities, such as fractures, joint dislocations, and the presence of bone spurs or erosions.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

MRI is a powerful imaging tool that provides detailed images of soft tissues, including cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and synovial fluid. It is particularly useful for detecting and evaluating conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, tendon injuries, and other soft tissue abnormalities.


Ultrasound imaging is a non-invasive and radiation-free technique that can visualize soft tissues, including tendons, ligaments, and joint capsules. It is often used to diagnose and monitor conditions like trigger finger and tendon injuries.

Computed Tomography (CT) Scan

CT scans provide detailed cross-sectional images of the MCP joint and surrounding structures. They can be particularly useful in evaluating complex fractures, dislocations, and bone abnormalities.

Common Conditions Affecting the MCP Joint

Due to its complex structure and frequent use, the MCP joint can be susceptible to various conditions, including:


Arthritis is a general term used to describe inflammation and degeneration of the joints. Several types of arthritis can affect the MCP joint, such as:

  • Osteoarthritis: A degenerative condition that causes the cartilage in the joint to wear down over time.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: An autoimmune disorder that leads to chronic inflammation and joint damage.

Trigger Finger

Also known as stenosing tenosynovitis, trigger finger is a condition where one of the fingers becomes stuck in a bent position due to inflammation or thickening of the tendon sheath.

Mallet Finger

Mallet finger is an injury that occurs when the tendon that straightens the finger is torn or ruptured, typically from a forceful impact or jamming of the finger.

Joint Dislocation

In some cases, the MCP joint can become dislocated, or partially dislocated, due to trauma or injury.


The metacarpophalangeal joint is an important component of the human hand, enabling the intricate movements and dexterity that we rely on for countless daily activities. Understanding its anatomy, functions, imaging and potential conditions is essential for maintaining hand health and seeking appropriate treatment when necessary.

Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for, professional medical advice. Do not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating any medical or health condition. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider.

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