Project Wonder - The art of science at the Medical College of Wisconsin

Tracking the Flick of a Wrist

What if tracking the wrist movement could help doctors diagnose and treat injuries and deformities in bones, tendons and ligaments? Scientists at MCW published the results of a preliminary study in PLOSONE in June 2022 demonstrating the potential of this approach to change what providers can see in scans of patients’ wrists and how they evaluate the structure and function of bones and connective tissues. At present, physicians grapple with the challenge of identifying the root cause of pain or discomfort during wrist movements by examining static X-ray, computed tomography (CT), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) results. By taking advantage of technological advancements in scanning technology and data analysis techniques, orthopedic and medical imaging researchers now are testing approaches for scanning the movement of bones in the carpal row of the wrist, which may help clinicians more accurately diagnose and more effectively treat patients suffering from wrist injuries. The most significant benefit may be in identifying abnormalities traced to specific carpal ligaments, such as the scapholunate ligament, which can lead to arthritis if not treated.

Though the wrist may seem like a simple body part, its intricate anatomy makes scanning and modeling its inner structures a complex task – especially when attempting to capture its movements. Scientists in the MCW Center for Imaging Research selected to use MRI for their study due its ability to better differentiate between types of tissues and its effectiveness at capturing damage to ligaments. The research team took scans of the wrists of five healthy individuals with no history of wrist injury or bone disease. The participants were trained to conduct two distinct movement patterns, which were each repeated three times, during the 103-second MRI scans. The MRI scans were then used to create new techniques for measuring the movement of joints in a detailed way.

More research is needed to perfect this approach for use in clinics, but the scientists are hopeful. Their findings support the results of other recent studies on wrist movement, including those including those using CT scans. One day it may be common for medical imaging technicians to acquire dynamic scans by asking patients to flick their wrists or conduct other movements rather than requesting them to stay completely still.

Artwork, animation, and soundtrack:

Michael Shank

Research in collaboration with:
Kevin Koch, PhD, MCW Department of Radiology
Azadeh Sharafi, PhD, MCW Department of Radiology
Mohammad Zarenia, PhD, MCW Department of Radiation Oncology
Volkan Emre Arpinar, MCW Department of Radiology
Andrew Nencka, PhD, MCW Department of Radiology
L. Tugan Muftuler, PhD, MCW Department of Neurosurgery