The How and Why of the Human Hand

You may think you’re pretty familiar with your hands. You may think you know them like the back of your hand. But as the following exercises derived from the latest hand research will reveal, your pair of bioengineering sensations still hold quite a few surprises up their sleeve. Follow the exercises to see how the movements of our ngers are more connected than we think.

EXERCISE 1: EXTENSION
Make a st with your nondominant hand... ...with your knuckles facing up, try lifting each nger without lifting the others. Which is the most di cult to move?

The index nger is no problem. The most dextrous nger can be easily raised without disturbing the others.

The middle nger is trickier. Still, most can easily lift this nger independently of the rest without much di culty.

Why is it so much harder to lift the ring nger on its own? Let’s take a closer look...

The ring nger won’t budge. No matter how hard we try, the ring nger won’t go up without lifting its neighbors.

The pinky is a piece of cake. It goes up easily on its own, even though we just saw that the ring nger won’t without it.

Plantar (Back) View 1

The lifting action, or extension, of our ngers is the work of four very long tendons attached to the muscles in our forearms. As pictured here, when the tendon connected to the ring nger is pulled, it also pulls on (1) a branching tendon attached to the pinky and (2) a fascia attached to the middle nger.

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None of the tendons controlling the other ngers is bound to the adjacent tendons in the same way.

EXERCISE 2: FLEXION
Now turn your hand palm up, ngers out...
...and try curling your pinky inward without bending the

knuckles of any other nger. What happens?

Again, it’s the ring nger giving us all the trouble. Why is this? To nd out, let’s take another look inside the hand...

Bending the pinky inwards up to the second knuckle seems easy enough...

...but try bending it all the way, and the ring nger gets pulled along too.

Palmar (Front) View
Bending inwards, or exion, of the ngers is caused by tendons in the palm which function similarly to those in the back of the hand. When we bend our ngers inward, it is the result of muscles in the forearm which pull on long tendons attached to the palm side of the ngers. In most, the tendon responsible for bending the pinky (1) is shared with the ring nger too (2). The lumbrical muscle which lets us specify that we want to bend only the pinky (3) is actually attached to the ring nger as well.

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When the lumbrical pulls the pinky downward, it tugs a bit on the tendon attached to the ring nger. The characteristic bend of the ring nger is thus the result of a combination of two forces: 1. the pulling action from the lumbrical muscle controlling the pinky but attached to both tendon branches, and, 2. the downstream tug on the shared tendon from muscles originating in our forearms.

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