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A human left hand

The hand is a portion of the arm or anterior limb of a human or other primate, at where the appendage terminates. This part of the limb is especially used in grasping and holding. The left hand is the mirror image of the right hand.

What constitutes a hand?

Although many mammals and other animals have grasping appendages similar in form to a hand, these are scientifically not considered to be so, and have other varying names, including paws. Using the term hand is merely a scientific usage of anthropomorphization, to distinguish the terminations of the front paws from the hind ones. The only true hands appear in the mammalian order of primates. Hands must also feature opposable thumbs, as described later in the text.

Structure of the Hand

The hand consists of a broad palm (metacarpus) with five digits, attached to the forearm by a joint called the wrist (carpus).


The Four Fingers

The four fingers on the hand are located at the outermost edge of the palm. These four digits can be folded over the palm, this allows for the holding of objects, and furthermore the grasping of small objects.

The Thumb

The thumb (connected to the trapezium) is located on one the sides, parallel to the arm. The thumb can be easily rotated 90, on a perpendicular level compared to the palm, unlike the fingers which can only be rotated approximately 45. A reliable way of identifying true hands is from the presence of opposable thumbs. Other than opossums (Daubentoniidae), lemurs (Daubentoniidae) and the now extinct dinosaurs, this is a unique feature. Opposable thumbs are identified by the ability to be brought opposite to the fingers.


The human hand has at least 27 bones: the carpus or wrist account for 8; the metacarpus or palm contains 5; the remaining 14 are digital bones.

Bones of the wrist

The wrist has eight bones, arranged in two rows of four. These bones fit into a shallow socket formed by the bones of the forearm.

Bones of the palm

The palm has 5 bones, one to each of the 5 digits.

Digital bones

Also called phalanges, hands contain 14 of them; 2 in the thumb, and 3 in each of the four fingers (called distal phalanx, carrying the nail, middle phalanx and proximal phalanx. The thumb has no middle phalanx).

Sesamoid bones

Sesamoid bones are small ossified nodes embedded in the tendons to provide extra leverage and reduce pressure on the underlying tissue. Many exist around the palm at the bases of the digits, but the exact number varies between different people. The patella is the largest example of a sesamoid bone in the human body.

Muscles and Tendons

The movements of the human hand are accomplished by two sets of each of these tissues. They can be subdivided into two groups: the extrinsic and intrinsic muscle groups. The extrinsic muscle groups are the long flexors and extonsors. They are called extrinsic because the muscle belly is located on the forearm.

Intrinsic Hand Muscles

The Intrinsic muscle groups are the thenar and hypothenar muscles (thenar = thumb, hypothenar = little finger), the interosseus muscles (between the metacarpal bones, four dorsally and three volarly) and the lumbrical muscles. These muscles arise from the deep flexor (and are special because they have no bony origin) and insert on the dorsal extensor hood mechanism.

The Extrinsic Muscles of the Hand

The Flexors

The fingers have two long flexors, located on the underside of the forearm. They insert by tendons to the phalanges of the fingers. The deep flexor attaches to the distal phalanx, and the superficial flexor attaches to the middle phalanx. The flexors allow for the actual bending of the fingers. The thumb has one long flexor and a short flexor in the thenar muscle group. The human thumb also has other muscles in the thenar group (opponens- and abductor muscle), moving the thumb in opposition, making grasping possible.

The Extensors

Located on the back of the forearm and a connected in a more complex way then the flexors to the dorsum of the fingers. The tendons unite with the interosseous and lumbrical muscles to form the extensorhood mechanism. The primary function of the extensors is to straighten out the digits. The thumb has two extensors in the forearm; the tendons of these form the anatomical snuff box. Also, the index finger and the little finger have an extra extensor, used for instance for pointing.


Also of note is that the articulation of the human hand is more complex and delicate than that of comparable organs in any other animals. Without this extra articulation, we would not be able to operate a wide variety of tools and devices. The hand can also form a fist, for example in combat, or as a gesture.

See also: Common uses in of the word hand in the English language, hand (clock), hand (measurement), hand (mechanisms), hand (language).

Common uses in English language

I know it like the back of my hand - English phrase used to say that the subject knows the matter perfectly, as if it was part of their body, or that they were born with the knowledge. Related: Second hand.

Second hand - Similar to "I know it like the back of my hand," in that it is definitely known by the subject. Similar to something being described as second nature. Not to be confused with second-hand goods, which have already been used before, and are being resold.

A man may also describe somebody as his right hand man, which means that he relies heavily on this person.

A hand is also: