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What is the Anatomical Snuffbox? - Muscles & Anatomy

Instructor: Joshua Bowles

Joshua is a Sports Medicine and Athletic Training Instructor and has a Master's degree in Kinesiology.

In this lesson we will discuss the unique physical structure known as the anatomical snuffbox. We will cover the anatomy associated with this feature and look at how this structure got it's name.

What is a Snuffbox?

There was a time where gentleman of the day used tobacco quite often. During this time, the method for taking in the tobacco was through the nose by way of 'sniffing' it.

Where's the best place to put this tobacco before sniffing? Well, they ended up using a unique feature of the hand that provides a small divot in which to place the tobacco. This structure became commonly referred to as the anatomical snuffbox.

The anatomical snuffbox is a depression on the surface of the hand
snuffbox

Location

The anatomical snuffbox is a triangular divot or depression located on the thumb side of the hand, also called the 'radial' or 'lateral' side of the hand.

Spread all your fingers out, including your thumb, as if you were attempting to make your hands really wide. If you look at the base of your thumb while its fully extended towards the wrist you can see a small indention. This is your anatomical snuffbox.

Another way to see it is to give someone a thumbs up. The snuffbox will appear at the wrist joint.

The anatomical snuffbox is also referred to as the radial fossa in medical circles. 'Fossa' is the medical term describing a hollowed depression or somewhat flattened surface. And the anatomical snuffbox is located on the radial side, which is how we get the term 'radial fossa'.

Skeletal Anatomy

The snuffbox is situated over the group of bones in the wrist known as the carpals. These are small uniquely shaped bones, eight in total, that make up the wrist. There is one carpal in particular that serves as the foundation, or floor, of the anatomical snuffbox, called the scaphoid. The scaphoid, sometimes referred to as the navicular of the wrist, gets its name from the Greek word meaning 'boat-shaped'.

The scaphoid bone (in red) serves as the foundation of the anatomical snuffbox
Scaphoid bone

Muscular Anatomy

Recall that a tendon is a type of connective tissue that connects a muscle to a bone. The muscle is responsible for the movement of the bone and does so by its attachment point on the bone by way of the tendon.

When looking at the anatomical snuffbox you might notice two thin, chord-like structures that help to form the triangular shape that creates the divot.

  1. The medial border, the side that is closest to the pinky finger, is formed by the tendon of the extensor pollicis longus muscle.
  2. The lateral border, is formed by the tendons of two muscles, the abductor pollicis longus and the extensor pollicis brevis.

Highlighted extensor pollicis longus muscle
Extensor pollicis longus

Innervation and Blood Supply

In addition to its skeletal and muscular structures, the anatomical snuffbox has a series of nerves and arteries that supply the area with blood and sensation. The radial artery supplies the blood to this vital area of the wrist and hand. The radial nerve innervates the anatomical snuffbox providing sensation and function.

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