What is Wrist Arthritis?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 29 October 2019
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Wrist arthritis is a very common cause of discomfort and range of motion problems in the wrist joint. The condition involves damage to the protective layers of cartilage that leads to inflammation, pain, and swelling. Wrist problems can be the result of autoimmune disorders, acute injuries, age-related tissue deterioration, or a number of other possible factors. Most cases of wrist arthritis can be alleviated with medications, rest, and light strengthening exercises determined by a patient's doctor. Surgery is considered a final option if other treatment measures are unsuccessful.

Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most common causes of wrist pain. It is a chronic condition that results from an autoimmune disorder, in which the body's immune system causes an inflammatory response in otherwise healthy joint tissue. A person of any age can suffer from rheumatoid arthritis symptoms in the wrists and elsewhere in the body. Osteoarthritis, another frequently seen cause of chronic wrist inflammation, involves degeneration of bone and cartilage tissue in the wrist as a person gets older. Less commonly, arthritis can occur with a severe injury to the bones in the wrist or an infected wound near the joint.


Symptoms are usually similar in all forms of wrist arthritis. Pain and stiffness tend to come about gradually and worsen after activities such as typing, writing, or playing a sport. The wrist joint and the base of the hand may swell and redden. It often becomes difficult to rotate the wrist and grasp objects without significant discomfort. A person who experiences persistent wrist pain should schedule a visit with his or her primary care physician.

A doctor can diagnose wrist arthritis by evaluating the physical appearance of the joint, asking about symptoms, and performing a series of diagnostic tests. Blood tests are commonly performed to check for signs of an autoimmune condition or infection. X-rays and computerized tomography scans help the doctor determine the extent of cartilage and bone damage. After determining the nature and severity of the condition, the physician can determine the best way to treat it.

Patients with mild wrist arthritis are usually instructed to take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs and avoid excessive activity for several days. More serious conditions may require prescription oral drugs or corticosteroid injections to relieve inflammation and swelling. Doctors can describe range of motion and flexibility exercises to help improve functioning and slow the progression of arthritis. In a severe case, a surgical procedure can be performed to remove excess fluid and damaged tissue from the joint. Follow-up physical therapy can help surgery patients regain use of their wrists.



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