What Is the Watson's Test?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2019
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Watson’s test checks for instability at the base of the wrist, where the joint articulates with the arm bones. This examination can be performed as part of a routine hand and wrist evaluation, or when a doctor suspects that a patient has a problem with this area of the wrist. In the test, the care provider gently holds the wrist while rotating it, feeling for abnormalities and listening for a clicking or unnatural sound. The patient may experience some pain if the wrist is unstable.

The wrist is a delicate joint, consisting of a series of extremely small bones. These bones work together to provide a wide range of motion; patients may note, for example, that the wrist can rotate more than other joints. Detailed articulation allows the hands to perform fine motor tasks that require coordination and careful placement. This examination looks specifically at the scaphoid and lunate bones at the bottom of the joint where it meets the radius and ulna.


To perform Watson’s test, the examiner sits opposite from the patient and gently grips the wrist before rotating it. In a healthy individual, the wrist should move smoothly and comfortably. People with instability in the joint may report pain while the wrist makes a distinctive sound. The test can be repeated on the opposite wrist to confirm the finding. Care providers may want to perform some other evaluations in addition to Watson’s test to make sure the problem lies with these bones, and not elsewhere in the wrist joint.

If a doctor determines that instability is present during Watson’s test, there are a number of options for the patient. In some cases additional testing like medical imaging studies may be recommended to learn more about what is happening inside the wrist. Bracing and physical therapy can be used to support the joint and develop strength. In some cases, surgery may need to be considered as an option to stabilize the joint. This may be necessary in cases of extensive wrist damage.

Orthopedic doctors as well as specialists who focus on hand care may perform Watson’s test during a patient evaluation. The test is minimally invasive, which can make it a valuable diagnostic tool. Patients should be prepared for some wrist pain if there is a strong probability that the joint is unstable. The discomfort associated with the test is brief, as the doctor wants to avoid hurting the patient, and can provide important diagnostic information.


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