What is arthritis of the wrist?

Your wrist is a joint between your hand and arm that allows for a range of motion. It is made up of eight separate bones, connected by strong ligaments. Like the more commonly known arthritis of the knee and hip joints, the wrist is also a frequent target of degenerative arthritis. 

Arthritis is basically the wearing away of the cushion on your joints known as cartilage. As the cartilage wears away, the bone-to-bone contact causes pain with movement. Arthritis in the wrist usually occurs after previous trauma involving a wrist fracture, wrist ligament tear (frequently from sports), or just wear and tear over time. 

What are the signs of wrist arthritis?

The key sign of wrist arthritis is pain. The pain occurs with wrist motion or when using your wrist with force, such as getting out of a chair or doing a pushup.

How common is wrist arthritis?

Wrist arthritis is a relatively common condition. In my practice, every 20th patient or so comes in with X-ray findings of wrist arthritis, so it is not rare. Many patients can be treated by non-surgical means if their arthritis is not terribly advanced.

What are the treatment options for wrist arthritis?

To treat wrist arthritis, we try easy things first such as a wrist splint, anti-inflammatory medications, or a steroid injection into the wrist joint. If these do not help to reduce your pain and improve movement, surgery may be the next step. 

When is surgery appropriate for wrist arthritis?

When the pain is uncontrolled by simple means, then surgery is an option. Historically, wrist surgery involved removing some bones of the wrist joint in earlier stages of disease. 

If the arthritis is more advanced, another option is fusion of the wrist joint, either total or partial. Fusion is a surgical procedure that stabilizes the wrist joint by connecting the bone in your arm to the long bone in your hand. While this lessens pain, the wrist can no longer move and bend. 

The newest surgical option for wrist arthritis

Today, total wrist replacement, also known as arthroplasty, is becoming more common. New generation implants used for total wrist replacement have been released and received FDA approval in the past year. 

These modern implants allow the surgeon to replace the entire wrist joint with a device made of specialized metal and high-density polyethylene materials. The recent outcomes for patients undergoing total wrist replacement have been excellent, with high patient satisfaction.

Most people today do not want their wrist joint fused solid, with no motion. With the superb results we have seen with the newer implant designs, replacing the wrist joint with an artificial implant device has gotten much more attractive. 

I believe these are "game changers" as they much more naturally reproduce normal wrist range of motion and have improved support of the high wear parts of the implant design itself.

Treatment for wrist arthritis near you

If you are experiencing pain in your wrists, the experts in our Total Joint Center are here to help. 

Arnold-Peter Weiss, MD

Arnold-Peter Weiss, MD is an internationally recognized hand surgeon and professor of orthopaedics at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. Dr. Weiss serves as chief of hand, upper extremity and microvascular surgery at Rhode Island Hospital. He specializes in hand and wrist reconstruction with a particular interest in finger and wrist joint replacement surgery.