Finger facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Female hands
Female fingers

A finger is a type of digit attached to the hand. Our type of fingers are similar to those of other primates. They are used for doing things and feeling things.

Humans have five digits, the bones of which are termed phalanges. The first digit is the thumb, followed by the index finger, middle finger, ring finger, and little finger or 'pinky'. According to different definitions, the thumb can be called a finger, or not.

Anatomy

Skeleton

Scheme human hand bones-en
Illustration depicting the bones of the human hand

The thumb (connected to the trapezium) is located on one of the sides, parallel to the arm.

The palm has five bones known as metacarpal bones, one to each of the five digits. Human hands contain fourteen digital bones, also called phalanges, or phalanx bones: two in the thumb (the thumb has no middle phalanx) and three in each of the four fingers. These are the distal phalanx, carrying the nail, the middle phalanx, and the proximal phalanx.

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; the exact number varies between different people.

The articulations are: interphalangeal articulations between phalangeal bones, and metacarpophalangeal joints connecting the phalanges to the metacarpal bones.

Muscles

Each finger may flex and extend, abduct and adduct, and so also circumduct. Flexion is by far the strongest movement. In humans, there are two large muscles that produce flexion of each finger, and additional muscles that augment the movement. Each finger may move independently of the others, though the muscle bulks that move each finger may be partly blended, and the tendons may be attached to each other by a net of fibrous tissue, preventing completely free movement.

Fingers do not contain muscles (other than arrector pili). The muscles that move the finger joints are in the palm and forearm. The long tendons that deliver motion from the forearm muscles may be observed to move under the skin at the wrist and on the back of the hand.

Muscles of the fingers can be subdivided into extrinsic and intrinsic muscles. The extrinsic muscles are the long flexors and extensors. They are called extrinsic because the muscle belly is located on the forearm.

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 brevis muscle), moving the thumb in opposition, making grasping possible.

Skin

Aside from the genitals, the fingertips possess the highest concentration of touch receptors and thermoreceptors among all areas of the human skin, making them extremely sensitive to temperature, pressure, vibration, texture and moisture. Recent studies suggest fingers can feel nano-scale wrinkles on a seemingly smooth surface, a level of sensitivity not previously recorded. This makes the fingers commonly used sensory probes to ascertain properties of objects encountered in the world, making them prone to injury.

The pulp of a finger is the fleshy mass on the palmar aspect of the extremity of the finger.

Fingertip wrinkling in water

Although a common phenomenon, the underlying functions and mechanism of fingertip wrinkling following immersion in water are relatively unexplored. Originally it was assumed that the wrinkles were simply the result of the skin swelling in water, but it is now understood that the furrows are caused by the blood vessels constricting due to signalling by the sympathetic nervous system in response to water exposure. One hypothesis for why this occurs, the “rain tread” hypothesis, posits that the wrinkles may help the fingers grip things when wet, possibly being an adaption from a time when humans dealt with rain and dew in forested primate habitats. A 2013 study supporting this hypothesis found that the wrinkled fingertips provided better handling of wet objects but gave no advantage for handling dry objects. However, a 2014 study attempting to reproduce these results was unable to demonstrate any improvement of handling wet objects with wrinkled fingertips.

Other animals

Chimpanzees have lower limbs that are specialized for manipulation, and (arguably) have fingers on their lower limbs as well. The term 'finger' is not applied to the digits of most other animals, such as canines, felines, or ungulates, none of which can engage in fine manipulation with their forelimbs as a primate can.


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