Power to the pinky!

So you drift off to sleep tonight, and find yourself in a dream –  you’re in a Bond film, the baddies are threatening to chop off one of your fingers, only thing- you get to decide which one. Which one do you choose?

Most people confidently answer: their pinky – how useful is the little one that sits on the side? You could live a happy life without drinking tea with the Queen or doing a ‘hang loose’ sign right?

Dr Evil clearly understands hand anatomy

Not so fast, Mr Bond. Things are not as simple as they seem. If you look down at your hands right, now you’ll see a smooth curve of muscle at the base of your thumb (we call it your “thenar eminence”) – it pretty much tells us our thumbs are important – lots of muscles attach down there for strength and dexterity.

But have a look again and notice the bunch of muscles on the other side of your palm below your little finger (called the “hypothenar eminence”). In fact, the little finger gets three extra muscles in the palm. So why has the pinkie been given all that extra help if it’s not that important?

The precise and the powerful.

The answer, of course is the pinky is much more important that most of us give it credit. There are many different grips we use in everyday life but the two most important are our power grip and our precision grip. For example, imagine your hammering a nail in. One hand’s steadily holding the nail in place – with your index finger and thumb, this is our precision grip. We don’t want the nail moving around while we hammer and that isn’t a lot of force required to hold it there. Writing and painting is all about precision grip- low force, high dexterity and control.

Now let’s look at the other hand – the one holding the hammer. This hand’s role is less about precision and more about power. We don’t want the hammer sliding out of our hand was we swing it and we need our hand to be able to counter the force of the nail hitting once we make contact. This is where power grip takes main stage. Power grip involves the middle finger, ring finger and little finger curling to secure an object against the palm. The long bones of our hand below the little finger and ring finger are mobile so we can wrap our hands around an object to maximise skin contact, ensure good fit with a tool thus maximising our power. Those extra muscles of the hypothenar eminence firing to improve our strength.

Knowledge is power!

In the modern world, many of us forget our power grip. I wonder if we use our precision grip so much on our phones and writing we just forgot about the other one. But why does it matter? What happens if you just ignore power grip all together and just get on with your precision grip?

Firstly, you’re more likely to wear yourself out. If your use your thumb for power when it’s designed for precision, you’re more likely to suffer from wrist tendon injuries like de Quervain’s tendonitis or gradual process issues like base of thumb osteoarthritis.

Secondly, when you use your power grip you tend to activate the muscles on the inside of your forearm, triceps and lats. This supercharged chain of larger muscles allows us to move well. When we over our precision grip in situations where we need power, we tend to use the muscles on the top of our forearm, biceps and neck muscles. This can lead to neck and shoulder pain over time.

So back to the bond dream. Which is the weakest finger of them all? Which one do you let go? Our index finger is still pretty important for pinch grips, so with the little finger and ring finger being key to power grip I’d be sacrificing the middle finger – either that or just trying to wake myself up!