Kienbock Disease

Article Author:
Layla Nasr

Article Editor:
Jennifer Koay

Editors In Chief:
Wanda Wright
Cynthia Oster

Managing Editors:
Avais Raja
Orawan Chaigasame
Carrie Smith
Abdul Waheed
Khalid Alsayouri
Trevor Nezwek
Radia Jamil
Patrick Le
Anoosh Zafar Gondal
Saad Nazir
William Gossman
Hassam Zulfiqar
Steve Bhimji
John Shell
Matthew Varacallo
Heba Mahdy
Ahmad Malik
Sarosh Vaqar
Mark Pellegrini
James Hughes
Beata Beatty
Nazia Sadiq
Hajira Basit
Phillip Hynes
Tehmina Warsi

1/26/2019 9:21:10 PM


Kienböck disease refers to avascular necrosis of the lunate carpal bone, known as lunatomalacia. It was first recognized and described by Austrian radiologist Robert Kienböck in 1910.[1]

Relevant anatomy: The proximal carpal row of the mid-carpal joint is largely responsible for wrist motion, as opposed to the relatively fixed distal carpal row. The lunate is the central bone in the proximal row, and it articulates with the scaphoid, capitate, triquetrum, and occasionally the hamate. More proximally, the lunate is a component of the radiocarpal joint, and it also articulates with the ulna via the triangular fibrocartilage complex (TFCC). Of note, nearly 10% of the axial-radial/ulnar/carpal load is transmitted through the TFCC and subsequently to the ulna, and 35% through the radiolunate articulation.[2][3]


No consensus is present regarding the primary causative factor of Kienböck disease. It is multifactorial, related to the following variables:

Ulnar negative variance (or ulna minus): This refers to a disproportionately shortened ulna when compared to the radius. As deduced from the previous section, a shortened ulna results in excessive mechanical stress and repetitive microtrauma exerted on the lunate by the relatively long radius. In some studies, up to 78% of Kienböck cases correlate with this finding.[4]

Vascular supply to the lunate bone: The lunate receives its blood supply from a variable number of dorsal and volar penetrating arteries that branch off of the dorsal and palmar radiocarpal and intercarpal arches. Intraosseous collaterals are sparse. The lower the number of penetrating arteries (especially volar branches from the radiocarpal palmar arch), the greater the likelihood of developing the disease.[5][6]

Lunate morphology: Risk of developing Kienböck disease increases as lunate size decreases, forcing the lunate to carry a larger axial load. The lunate can either have a square/rectangular shape (type II or type III), or a more triangular shape whereby the medial articular facet is absent (type I). The latter has a weaker trabecular pattern and is a risk factor for disease development and progression.[7]

Radial inclination angle: the radial inclination angle is a measurement of the angle formed between the horizontal and a line drawn from the ulnar tip of the radial articular surface to the tip of the radial styloid. The risk of developing Kienböck disease increases as the radial inclination angle decreases.[8]


Kienböck disease is the second most common type of avascular necrosis of the carpal bones, preceded only by avascular necrosis of the scaphoid. The typically affected population is males aged 20-40 years.[5]

History and Physical

Patients usually present with unilateral pain over the dorsal aspect of the wrist, limited wrist motion, weakness, or a combination of the three. Wrist extension and axial loading exacerbate pain. Symptoms range from mild to debilitating. It is rarely bilateral, and trauma is often absent.[9]

Physical examination commonly reveals wrist swelling, tenderness over the expected location of the lunate, synovitis, and loss of grip strength.[9]


Kienböck disease is a clinical and imaging diagnosis. Both radiography/computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are highly specific. However, MRI is the most sensitive and detects radiographically occult cases.  

Magnetic Resonance Imaging: Diffuse decrease in lunate bone marrow signal on T1-weighted images is a hallmark of the disease. Signal changes on T2-weighted images or short-TI inversion recovery (STIR, which nullifies signal from fat) images vary with progression and extent of osteonecrosis. MRI also assesses the integrity of the articular cartilage.[9][6]

Radiography: Normal early in the disease. Findings, when present, depend on the morphological stage and include diffuse lunate sclerosis, cystic changes, articular surface collapse, carpal collapse, mid-carpal and/or radio-carpal secondary arthrosis. Coronal fractures may occur in lunates with a type I morphology.[9][6]

Computed Tomography: Is useful for surgical planning. It is also more sensitive than radiography for detecting subtle subchondral fractures, coronal lunate fractures, fragmentation, carpal instability, and the degree of trabecular disruption. Patients are frequently re-staged after CT imaging.[10]

Nuclear Scintigraphy: Findings are non-specific. It previously found use as an adjunct for diagnosing early-stage disease. It has fallen out of favor since introducing MRI.[6]

Treatment / Management

The goal of treating Kienböck disease is pain relief, wrist motion preservation, and preservation of grip strength.[11]

Treatment of Kienböck disease depends on the stage of the disease and its causative factors. Stage I is always treated with splinting or cast immobilization. Stage II can also be treated with immobilization if necrosis is incomplete. Stages II with complete necrosis, III, and IV require "joint-leveling" surgery possibly coupled with vascular bone grafting or transfer of branches from adjacent arteries. Later stages with lunate collapse and secondary wrist degenerative arthrosis may also require proximal row carpectomy or intercarpal arthrodesis. Radial shortening osteotomy is the most common procedure performed to unload the lunate in cases with coexistent ulnar negative variance. Treatment may improve symptoms and functionality without affecting imaging findings in the advanced stages.[6][9][11]

Differential Diagnosis

Ulnar impaction syndrome: More common with ulnar positive variance and results from repetitive microtrauma to the lunate from a relatively long ulna. Similar to Kienböck disease, ulnar impaction syndrome results in decreased T1-weighted signal coupled with increased T2 signal if hyperemia exists, or decreased T2 signal if the disease has already progressed to lunate sclerosis. The signal changes in Kienböck disease, however, are more diffuse or more severe on the radial side of the lunate. Additionally, ulnar impaction syndrome affects the ulnar head and triquetrum, which are intact in Kienböck patients.[12][6].

Lunate intraosseous ganglion: Intraosseous ganglia are true cysts which have low T1 signal and high T2 signal on MRI. Sharp, smooth margins on both MRI and radiography allow distinction from Kienböck disease.[6]

Bone contusion: May be difficult to distinguish early-stage Kienböck disease on MRI. A history of recent trauma and concomitant injuries to the wrist/hand, in this case, would aid in making the diagnosis.[6] 

Arthritis: Bone marrow signal changes in inflammatory or degenerative arthritides may mimic those seen in Kienböck disease. Distinguishing features include demographics, clinical presentation, and absence of ulna minus in arthritis.[6]

Osteoid osteoma: Osteoid osteoma of the carpal bones is rare, and only a few case reports exist in the literature. Clinical presentation and the finding of a lucent nidus within a sclerotic rim on CT differentiate it from Kienböck disease.[13]

Enostosis/bone island: Has low signal intensity on all sequences, however, shows preserved bone morphology and the area of "sclerosis"  is stellate and interdigitated with the normal trabeculae.[6]


Staging of Kienböck disease is essential for treatment planning and divides into morphological and functional staging.

Morphologic Staging follows the Lichtman Classification, which is based on radiographic and MR imaging findings and has low interobserver variability.[9][6][14]

Stage 1: Normal radiograph, lunate signal intensity changes on MRI.

Stage 2: Lunate sclerosis on radiography with or without fracture lines. The lunate shape is normal.

Stage 3: Collapse of the lunate articular surface.

  • 3A: with preserved carpal alignment and height.
  • 3B: with scaphoid flexion and loss of carpal height.
  • 3C: with an associated coronal fracture

Stage 4: Stage 3B + radio-carpal or mid-carpal arthrosis.

Functional Staging relies on contrast-enhanced MRI to assess osseous perfusion and the extent of necrosis. It is helpful to guide revascularization techniques during surgery for morphologic stages 2 and 3A. The pre- and post-contrast images are acquired using a T2 fat-suppressed sequence.[6][15]

Stage 1: Intense homogeneous contrast enhancement reflects bone marrow ischemia and edema and a viable lunate (corresponds to morphologic stage 1).

Stage 2: Patchy, inhomogeneous enhancement reflects partial necrosis. The remaining viable portion is usually distal.

Stage 3: Absent contrast enhancement reflects complete necrosis.


Kienbock disease is invariably progressive, and joint destruction occurs within 3-5 years of onset.[6]

Prognosis depends on:

Functional Staging: The greater the extent of viable bone, the better the prognosis.[6]

Negative ulnar variance: The greater the negative variance, the more severe the disease and the more likely it is to progress.[16]

Age at diagnosis: Patients diagnosed at an older age are more likely to have advanced stage disease and are more likely to progress.[16]

It is significant to note that the severity of symptoms does not always correlate with morphologic stage.


Kienböck disease can lead to scapholunate dissociation, secondary radiocarpal and mid-carpal degenerative arthrosis, and malalignment of the triquetrum.[5]

Enhancing Healthcare Team Outcomes

Kienböck disease is the second most common type of avascular necrosis of the carpal bones, preceded only by avascular necrosis of the scaphoid. The typically affected population is males aged 20-40 years.[5]

 Kienbock disease is invariably progressive, and joint destruction occurs within 3-5 years of onset.[6]

Prognosis depends on:

Functional Staging: The greater the extent of viable bone, the better the prognosis.[6]

Negative ulnar variance: The greater the negative variance, the more severe the disease and the more likely it is to progress.[16]

Age at diagnosis: Patients diagnosed at an older age are more likely to have advanced stage disease and are more likely to progress.[16]

Symptomatic severity does not always correlate with morphologic stage.

  • Image 7435 Not availableImage 7435 Not available
    Image courtesy S Bhimji MD
Attributed To: Image courtesy S Bhimji MD

Interested in Participating?

We are looking for contributors to author, edit, and peer review our vast library of review articles and multiple choice questions. In as little as 2-3 hours you can make a significant contribution to your specialty. In return for a small amount of your time, you will receive free access to all content and you will be published as an author or editor in eBooks, apps, online CME/CE activities, and an online Learning Management System for students, teachers, and program directors that allows access to review materials in over 500 specialties.

Improve Content - Become an Author or Editor

This is an academic project designed to provide inexpensive peer-reviewed Apps, eBooks, and very soon an online CME/CE system to help students identify weaknesses and improve knowledge. We would like you to consider being an author or editor. Please click here to learn more. Thank you for you for your interest, the StatPearls Publishing Editorial Team.

Kienbock Disease - Questions

Take a quiz of the questions on this article.

Take Quiz
Which of the following is a risk factor for developing Kienbock disease?

Click Your Answer Below

Would you like to access teaching points and more information on this topic?

Improve Content - Become an Author or Editor and get free access to the entire database, free eBooks, as well as free CME/CE as it becomes available. If interested, please click on "Sign Up" to register.

Purchase- Want immediate access to questions, answers, and teaching points? They can be purchased above at Apps and eBooks.

Sign Up

Kienbock Disease - References


Wagner JP,Chung KC, A historical report on Robert Kienb�ck (1871-1953) and Kienb�ck's Disease. The Journal of hand surgery. 2005 Nov;     [PubMed]
Lutsky K,Beredjiklian PK, Kienb�ck disease. The Journal of hand surgery. 2012 Sep;     [PubMed]
Cerezal L,del Pi�al F,Abascal F,Garc�a-Valtuille R,Pereda T,Canga A, Imaging findings in ulnar-sided wrist impaction syndromes. Radiographics : a review publication of the Radiological Society of North America, Inc. 2002 Jan-Feb;     [PubMed]
Arnaiz J,Piedra T,Cerezal L,Ward J,Thompson A,Vidal JA,Canga A, Imaging of Kienb�ck disease. AJR. American journal of roentgenology. 2014 Jul;     [PubMed]
van Leeuwen WF,Oflazoglu K,Menendez ME,Ring D, Negative Ulnar Variance and Kienb�ck Disease. The Journal of hand surgery. 2016 Feb;     [PubMed]
Thienpont E,Mulier T,Rega F,De Smet L, Radiographic analysis of anatomical risk factors for Kienb�ck's disease. Acta orthopaedica Belgica. 2004 Oct;     [PubMed]
Viegas SF,Patterson RM,Todd PD,McCarty P, Load mechanics of the midcarpal joint. The Journal of hand surgery. 1993 Jan;     [PubMed]
Schuind F,Cooney WP,Linscheid RL,An KN,Chao EY, Force and pressure transmission through the normal wrist. A theoretical two-dimensional study in the posteroanterior plane. Journal of biomechanics. 1995 May;     [PubMed]
Rhee PC,Jones DB,Moran SL,Shin AY, The effect of lunate morphology in Kienb�ck disease. The Journal of hand surgery. 2015 Apr;     [PubMed]
Murphey MD,Foreman KL,Klassen-Fischer MK,Fox MG,Chung EM,Kransdorf MJ, From the radiologic pathology archives imaging of osteonecrosis: radiologic-pathologic correlation. Radiographics : a review publication of the Radiological Society of North America, Inc. 2014 Jul-Aug;     [PubMed]
van Leeuwen WF,Tarabochia MA,Schuurman AH,Chen N,Ring D, Risk Factors of Lunate Collapse in Kienb�ck Disease. The Journal of hand surgery. 2017 Nov;     [PubMed]
G�ner MD,Kamburo?lu HO,Bekta? U,Ay ?, Osteoid osteoma of the lunatum mimicking Kienb�ck's disease. Case reports in plastic surgery     [PubMed]
Iwasaki N,Minami A,Oizumi N,Suenaga N,Kato H,Minami M, Radial osteotomy for late-stage Kienb�ck's disease. Wedge osteotomy versus radial shortening. The Journal of bone and joint surgery. British volume. 2002 Jul;     [PubMed]
Quenzer DE,Linscheid RL,Vidal MA,Dobyns JH,Beckenbaugh RD,Cooney WP, Trispiral tomographic staging of Kienb�ck's disease. The Journal of hand surgery. 1997 May;     [PubMed]
Goldfarb CA,Hsu J,Gelberman RH,Boyer MI, The Lichtman classification for Kienb�ck's disease: an assessment of reliability. The Journal of hand surgery. 2003 Jan;     [PubMed]
Schmitt R,Heinze A,Fellner F,Obletter N,Str�hn R,Bautz W, Imaging and staging of avascular osteonecroses at the wrist and hand. European journal of radiology. 1997 Sep;     [PubMed]


The intent of StatPearls is to provide practice questions and explanations to assist you in identifying and resolving knowledge deficits. These questions and explanations are not intended to be a source of the knowledge base of all of medicine, nor is it intended to be a board or certification review of CNS-Adult Health. The authors or editors do not warrant the information is complete or accurate. The reader is encouraged to verify each answer and explanation in several references. All drug indications and dosages should be verified before administration.

StatPearls offers the most comprehensive database of free multiple-choice questions with explanations and short review chapters ever developed. This system helps physicians, medical students, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, and allied health professionals identify education deficits and learn new concepts. StatPearls is not a board or certification review system for CNS-Adult Health, it is a learning system that you can use to help improve your knowledge base of medicine for life-long learning. StatPearls will help you identify your weaknesses so that when you are ready to study for a board or certification exam in CNS-Adult Health, you will already be prepared.

Our content is updated continuously through a multi-step peer review process that will help you be prepared and review for a thorough knowledge of CNS-Adult Health. When it is time for the CNS-Adult Health board and certification exam, you will already be ready. Besides online study quizzes, we also publish our peer-reviewed content in eBooks and mobile Apps. We also offer inexpensive CME/CE, so our content can be used to attain education credits while you study CNS-Adult Health.