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We performed a prospective study in order to assess the utility of high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging in the detection and specific localization of tears of the triangular fibrocartilage complex. Seventy-seven patients who had pain in the wrist were studied with use of a dedicated surface coil and three-dimensional gradient-recalled techniques with a field of view of eight centimeters and a slice thickness of one millimeter. The patients had pain on the ulnar side of the wrist, ligamentous instability, occult ganglia, or a combination of these. Magnetic resonance images were assessed for radial or ulnar avulsion, or both; central defects; degenerative intrasubstance changes; and complex tears of the triangular fibrocartilage complex. Partial tears were differentiated from complete tears. The findings on the magnetic resonance images were then compared with the arthroscopic findings. Fifty-seven of the fifty-nine tears that were suspected on magnetic resonance images were confirmed with arthroscopy; the two suspected tears that were not confirmed had been interpreted as small partial tears on the magnetic resonance images. With use of arthroscopy as the standard, magnetic resonance imaging had a sensitivity of 100 per cent (fifty-seven of fifty-seven), a specificity of 90 per cent (eighteen of twenty), and an accuracy of 97 per cent (seventy-five of seventy-seven) for the detection of a tear (kappa = 0.93, p < 0.00001). Fifty-three of the fifty-seven tears were localized correctly with use of magnetic resonance imaging. With regard to the location of the tear, magnetic resonance imaging had a sensitivity of 100 per cent (fifty-three of fifty-three), a specificity of 75 per cent (eighteen of twenty-four), and an accuracy of 92 per cent (seventy-one of seventy-seven) (kappa = 0.9, p < 0.0001).We concluded that high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging permits accurate depiction and localization of tears of the triangular fibrocartilage complex. When the appropriate pulse sequence is used, magnetic resonance imaging is an accurate and effective method for the non-invasive evaluation of pain in the wrist.