Your wrist is made up of many smaller bones and joints that allow your hand to move in several directions. It also includes the end of the arm bones.

Let’s take a closer look.

Your wrist is made up of eight small bones called the carpal bones, or the carpus. These join your hand to the two long bones in your forearm — the radius and ulna.

The carpal bones are small square, oval, and triangular bones. The cluster of carpal bones in the wrist make it both strong and flexible. Your wrist and hand wouldn’t work the same if the wrist joint was only made up of one or two larger bones.

The eight carpal bones are:

  • Scaphoid: long boat-shaped bone under your thumb
  • Lunate: a crescent-shaped bone beside the scaphoid
  • Trapezium: a rounded-square shaped bone above the scaphoid and under the thumb
  • Trapezoid: bone beside the trapezium that’s shaped like a wedge
  • Capitate: an oval or head-shaped bone in the middle of the wrist
  • Hamate: bone under the pinky finger side of the hand
  • Triquetrum: pyramid-shaped bone under the hamate
  • Pisiform: a small, round bone that sits on top of the triquetrum
diagram labeling the eight carpal bones and two arm bones of the wrist
Illustration by Diego Sabogal

The wrist has three main joints. This makes the wrist more stable than if it had only one joint. It also gives your wrist and hand a wide range of movement.

The wrist joints let your wrist move your hand up and down, like when you lift your hand to wave. These joints allow you to bend your wrist forward and backward, side to side, and to rotate your hand.

Radiocarpal joint

This is where the radius — the thicker forearm bone — connects with the bottom row of wrist bones: the scaphoid, lunate and triquetrum bones. This joint is mainly on the thumb side of your wrist.

Ulnocarpal joint

This is the joint between the ulna — the thinner forearm bone — and the lunate and triquetrum wrist bones. This is the pinky finger side of your wrist.

Distal radioulnar joint

This joint is in the wrist but doesn’t include the wrist bones. It connects the bottom ends of the radius and ulna.

The hand bones between your fingers and wrist are made up of five long bones called metacarpals. They make up the bony part at the back of your hand.

The bones of your hand connect to the top four wrist bones:

  • trapezium
  • trapezoid
  • capitate
  • hamate

Where they connect is called the carpometacarpal joints.

Along with blood vessels, nerves, and skin, the major soft tissue in the wrist includes:

  • Ligaments. Ligaments connect the wrist bones to each other and to the hand and forearm bones. Ligaments are like elastic bands that keep bones in place. They cross the wrist from each side to hold the bones together.
  • Tendons. Tendons are another kind of elastic connective tissue that attaches muscles to bones. This lets you move your wrist and other bones.
  • Bursae. The wrist bones are also surrounded by fluid-filled sacs called bursae. These soft sacs reduce friction between tendons and bones.

Wrist bones, ligaments, tendons, muscles and nerves can be injured or damaged. Common wrist injuries and conditions include:


You can sprain your wrist by stretching it too far or carrying something heavy. A sprain happens when there’s damage to a ligament.

The most common place for a wrist sprain is at the ulnocarpal joint — the joint between the arm bone and wrist bone on the pinky finger side of the hand.

Impaction syndrome

Also called ulnocarpal abutment, this wrist condition happens when the ulna arm bone is slightly longer than the radius. This makes the ulnocarpal joint between this bone and your wrist bones less stable.

Impaction syndrome can lead to increased contact between the ulna and carpal bones, leading to pain and weakness.

Arthritis pain

You can get wrist joint pain from arthritis. This can happen from normal wear and tear or an injury to the wrist. You can also get rheumatoid arthritis from an immune system imbalance. Arthritis can happen in any of the wrist joints.


You can fracture any of the bones in your hand from a fall or other injury. The most common kind of fracture in the wrist is a distal radius fracture.

A scaphoid fracture is the most commonly broken carpal bone. This is the large bone on the thumb side of your wrist. It can fracture when you try to catch yourself in a fall or collision with an outstretched hand.

Repetitive stress injuries

Common injuries to the wrist happen from doing the same movements with your hands and wrists repeatedly for a long time. This includes typing, texting, writing, and playing tennis.

They can cause swelling, numbness, and pain in the wrist and hand.

Stress injuries can affect the bones, ligaments, and nerves of the wrist. They include:

Depending on the injury, issue, and individual circumstances, treatment for common wrist issues range from rest, support, and exercises to medications and surgery.

For example, carpal tunnel has its own exercises and devices that may help. Wrist arthritis will have its own treatment plan, too. Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider if you have any concerns about your wrists.