Wrist replacement, also known as wrist arthroplasty, is a joint replacement surgery in which an artificial wrist joint, or prosthesis, is implanted into the patient’s wrist. This surgery is often done to alleviate joint pain caused by osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. In addition to easing joint pain, wrist replacement surgery also helps to restore motion to the wrist, making it possible for a patient to perform daily activities.
The wrist is comprised of eight bones, called the carpal bones. These bones allow an individual to move his wrist in different directions. Without this flexibility in the wrist, an individual is limited in the use of his hand, which can make even simplest everyday activities difficult to accomplish. Wrist replacement surgery can restore mobility and strength to the wrist and, in turn, to the hand.
Though there are other conditions that might call for wrist replacement surgery, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are two of the most common ones. An individual with osteoarthritis has joint inflammation and pain due to loss of cartilage. Cartilage is tissue that cushions bones so that they move easily and painlessly. Without this tissue, bones rub against each other, causing the joint inflammation and pain which limits wrist flexibility.
An individual with rheumatoid arthritis has a chronic inflammatory disease that causes him to suffer joint pain, stiffness and swelling. Sometimes these symptoms might occur symmetrically on both sides of the body. Over time, this disease can cause cartilage, ligament and tendon damage.
The option of having wrist replacement surgery might not be viable for everyone; it is usually done when other forms of arthritis treatment have not worked. During the surgery itself, the doctor removes the damaged bones and replaces them with the prosthesis. The prosthesis, which is made to allow flexibility, is created of metal and spaced with polyethylene. Work done during the procedure is completed through an incision on the back of the wrist.
Recovering from wrist replacement surgery requires a rehabilitation period that lasts anywhere between three and six months. In the weeks directly after the surgery, the patient will have to wear a cast or splint to prevent the wrist from moving, effectively allowing the wrist to heal. As with the case of any surgical procedure, wrist replacement comes with its share of complications. Examples of these complications include infection and loosening. With proper care, wrist joint replacements can last 10 to 15 years.