I have counted the degrees of freedom in my hand over and over and I keep getting the number 19.

Suppose each finger has 3 degrees of freedom. Then 5 * 3 = 15. The wrist can rotate around or back and forth so that contributes to 4 degrees of freedom. In total the hand has 19 degrees of freedom.

From a cursory google search, I can notice that it is commonly agreed upon that human hand has 27 degrees of freedom. Can someone provide a good reference and explanation for this?

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    $\begingroup$ The first link in that search is a paper which says this: "The human hand has 27 degrees of freedom: 4 in each finger, 3 for extension and flexion and one for abduction and adduction; the thumb is more complicated and has 5 DOF, leaving 6 DOF for the rotation and translation of the wrist." $\endgroup$
    – canadianer
    Mar 28, 2015 at 21:02
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    $\begingroup$ @canadianer is there a video or some sort that I can visually see how this is the case? $\endgroup$
    – Fraïssé
    Mar 29, 2015 at 5:11
  • $\begingroup$ Why is this flagged as "unclear"? Hasn't @canadianer already provided the answer in the comment? Can't you answer it canadianer? Better to answer a question than have it deleted. Admittedly, it's quite a poor question but I am happy to edit it a bit after an answer is put forward $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Mar 30, 2015 at 23:00
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    $\begingroup$ @AliceD I didn't answer because I don't know anything about it and the OP seems to want a better explanation. I don't think the question should be closed. $\endgroup$
    – canadianer
    Mar 30, 2015 at 23:03
  • $\begingroup$ @canadianer - yes I see his video comment. Personally, I think you should answer, you have my upvote :) But I understand your position. It won't result in an accepted answer I guess. Up to you! $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Mar 30, 2015 at 23:04

1 Answer 1


Keeping in mind that I know nothing about this, I will try to explain why the hand can be modelled with 27 degrees of freedom. This is just my interpretation of this paper, which says:

The human hand has 27 degrees of freedom: 4 in each finger, 3 for extension and flexion and one for abduction and adduction; the thumb is more complicated and has 5 DOF, leaving 6 DOF for the rotation and translation of the wrist.

To accurately model the hand, a complete model of the muscles, tendons, bones and a neurological control structure is necessary. The dynamics of such a complex model are still poorly understood, forcing the use of simplified models. Current models are too simplified for our purpose so we turn to recent work from the medical community to motivate assumptions used in a new model that we propose here. We use a 27 DOF model of the hand with the following sim- plifying assumptions: 1. The thumb is independent of the other fingers. 2. Adduction/abductionofthefingerjointsareindependent. 3. Motion frequency does not affect joint interdependence. 4. Both hands have the same interdependence model. 5. The posture of the wrist and the rest of the arm do not affect the underlying interdependence structure.

Incidentally, this implies to me that there are different models of the hand with different assumptions that use a different number of degrees of freedom.

Anyways, take a look at this hand: enter image description here


And now, follow along with your own hand!

  • finger (4 DOF): each finger has 2 interphalangeal joints between the distal, middle and proximal phalanges that allow for flexion/extension (2 DOF); each finger also has a metacarpophalangeal joint between the proximal phalanx and the metacarpal that allows for flexion/extension as well as abduction/adduction (2 DOF)
  • thumb (5 DOF): an interphalangeal joint between the distal and proximal phalanges allowing flexion/extension (1 DOF); a metacarpophalangeal joint between the proximal phalanx and metacarpal allowing flexion/extension and abduction/adduction (2 DOF); a carpometacarpal joint between the metacarpal and trapezium allowing flexion/extension and abduction/adduction (2 DOF)
  • wrist (6 DOF): between the carpals and radius allowing flexion/extension, abduction/adduction and supination/pronation (3 DOF); I think when the authors refer to translation of the wrist, they are simply saying that hand can be moved in all planes of 3D space (ie up/down, side to side, forward/backward - 3 DOF)

Since we have 4 fingers, they give 16 DOF. Adding the 5 DOF of the thumb and 6 of the wrist, we get 27. Please nobody question my reasoning. Thank you.

  • $\begingroup$ By the last 6DOF, the article just means the placement of the whole hand as an object in 3D space. They don't care about the radius, it's not a part of the hand. $\endgroup$
    – EvgEnZh
    Mar 7 at 16:35
  • $\begingroup$ An observations based on my hands: I think there are 3 more degrees of freedom, bringing the total up to 30DOF. I actually am able to move my metacarpals up and down independently, even quite noticably and somewhat easily for the pinky and ring fingers. Taking one as the reference, the other 3 add 1DOF each. The easiest way to observe it for me is to make a fist and alternate between squeezing these two fingers shut and trying to extend them while also resisting extension by trying to keeping the joints between metacarpals and phalanges at 90°. Or you can just move them with the other hand. $\endgroup$
    – EvgEnZh
    Mar 7 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ Note that my goal here was to find all visible degrees of freedom, not just "practical" ones, to make hand poses look more natural. The extra 3 I described above allow the knuckles to be in an almost straight line or in a very noticable curve, so I count them even if they are "useless". And I might as well give the joint between thumb's metacarpal and phalange just 1DOF instead of 2, for me it bends sideways about as well as all inter-phalangial joints. $\endgroup$
    – EvgEnZh
    Mar 7 at 17:06

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