The palm of the hand contains five elongated metacarpal bones. These bones lie between the carpal bones of the wrist and the bones of the fingers and thumb (Picture 1).

  • The proximal end of each metacarpal bone articulates with one of the distal carpal bones. Each of these articulations is a carpometacarpal joint (Picture 2).
  • The expanded distal end of each metacarpal bone articulates at the metacarpophalangeal joint with the proximal phalanx bone of the thumb or one of the fingers. The distal end also forms the knuckles of the hand, at the base of the fingers.

The metacarpal bones are numbered 1–5, beginning at the thumb.
The first metacarpal bone, at the base of the thumb, is separated from the other metacarpal bones. This allows it a freedom of motion that is independent of the other metacarpal bones, which is very important for thumb mobility. The remaining metacarpal bones are united together to form the palm of the hand. The second and third metacarpal bones are firmly anchored in place and are immobile. However, the fourth and fifth metacarpal bones have limited anterior-posterior mobility, a motion that is greater for the fifth bone. This mobility is important during power gripping with the hand (Picture 3). The anterior movement of these bones, particularly the fifth metacarpal bone, increases the strength of contact for the medial hand during gripping actions.

Common Characteristics of the Metacarpal Bones
  • The Body (corpus; shaft): The body is prismoid in form, and curved, so as to be convex in the longitudinal direction behind, concave in front. It presents three surfaces:
    • The medial and lateral surfaces are concave, for the attachment of the Interossei, and separated from one another by a prominent anterior ridge.
    • The dorsal surface presents in its distal two-thirds a smooth, triangular, flattened area which is covered in the fresh state, by the tendons of the Extensor muscles. This surface is bounded by two lines, which commence in small tubercles situated on either side of the digital extremity, and, passing upward, converge and meet some distance above the center of the bone and form a ridge which runs along the rest of the dorsal surface to the carpal extremity. This ridge separates two sloping surfaces for the attachment of the Interossei dorsales. To the tubercles on the digital extremities are attached the collateral ligaments of the metacarpophalangeal joints.
  • The Base or Carpal Extremity (basis) is of a cuboidal form, and broader behind than in front: it articulates with the carpus, and with the adjoining metacarpal bones; its dorsal and volar surfaces are rough, for the attachment of ligaments.
  • The Head or Digital Extremity (capitulum) presents an oblong surface markedly convex from before backward, less so transversely, and flattened from side to side; it articulates with the proximal phalanx. It is broader, and extends farther upward, on the volar than on the dorsal aspect, and is longer in the antero-posterior than in the transverse diameter. On either side of the head is a tubercle for the attachment of the collateral ligament of the metacarpophalangeal joint. The dorsal surface, broad and flat, supports the Extensor tendons; the volar surface is grooved in the middle line for the passage of the Flexor tendons, and marked on either side by an articular eminence continuous with the terminal articular surface.