Most wrist arthritis is caused by either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.

Arthritis of the Wrist


Arthritis is the swelling, pain and stiffness of the joints, where the ends of the bones join.

Most wrist arthritis is caused by either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the common “wear and tear” arthritis that generally affects older people with a gradual onset of diminishing cartilage. Early symptoms include pain and stiffness, swelling, warmth at the joint, changes in neighboring joints, and limited mobility. Osteoarthritis of the wrist can also develop from Kienböck’s disease. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes the synovium (joint lining) to swell which in turn causes pain, limited mobility, and stiffness in the knuckles joints.

A physician will discuss your symptoms, history and x-rays to diagnose arthritis of the wrist. Blood tests can be done to diagnose whether it symptoms are due to rheumatoid arthritis.

Anti-inflammatories can be taken to help with swelling and pain. When anti-inflammatories aren’t effective, injections of anesthetic and steroid can be helpful but only be used a limited amount of time. Splinting is used in conjuncture with injections to ease stress placed on it from frequent use and certain activities. Certain physical therapies can also be done to improve range of motion in the wrist. Other medications can be prescribed if rheumatoid arthritis symptoms are not being managed by the above remedies by a rheumatologist.

The objective of surgery is to alleviate pain and recover hand and wrist function. A proximal row carpectomy can be done to remove the arthritic bones. If the pain is caused by motion a fusion can be done to make carpel bones into one, there are varying degrees of this procedure to accommodate your specific condition. Joint replacement can also be done to remove the bad joint and replace with a prosthesis (artificial joint) to aid in wrist mobility.

Arthritis of the Wrist
Articular cartilage protects the ends of bones where joints meet.(Right) In this x-ray of a wrist with osteoarthritis, the cartilage is destroyed and the healthy space between bones is narrowed (arrow).
Image courtesy of AAOS