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Keywords:

  • Skeletal asymmetry;
  • Cross-sectional geometry;
  • Handedness

Abstract

Bilateral asymmetry in the structure of the second metacarpal was examined in relation to functional hand dominance in a large, clinically nonselected, healthy population sample from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. Bilateral bone measurements were made from anteroposterior hand radiographs of a total of 992 individuals, 609 males and 383 females, with an age range of 19–94 years. Hand dominance was determined on the basis of personal impression. Total width and medullary width at the midshaft of the second metacarpal were measured to 0.05 mm using a Helios caliper. These two measurements were used to derive cortical thickness, cortical bone area, periosteal (total) area, medullary area, percent cortical area, and the second moment of area in the mediolateral plane. In both right and left-handed individuals, statistically significant side differences were found in the calculated bone areas and the second moment of area, with the dominant hand being larger. Cortical thickness did not show significant side-related differences for either handedness. These results show that functional handedness leads to periosteal and endosteal expansion of the second metacarpal cortex on the dominant side, increasing bone strength without increasing cortical thickness. This is the first time this pattern of asymmetry has been reported in left-handers as well as right-handers. Our results argue for the primacy of environmental (mechanical) effects in determining bilateral asymmetry of limb bone structural properties. © 1994 Wiley-Liss, Inc.