Wrist arthritis

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What is arthritis?

Arthritis involves inflammation of one or more of your joints. Pain and stiffness are common symptoms of arthritis, and simple daily activities can become more complicated when these occur in your wrist.

Your wrist is a complex joint made up of multiple small joints. In normal conditions, the bones glide effortlessly over each other during movement, protected by smooth cartilage that coats the joint surfaces. Arthritis damages this cartilage. Cartilage slowly wears out as the disease progresses. As a result, the bones rub against each other, leading to joint damage. 

 

What are the causes of arthritis?

​There are three types of wrist arthritis. 

  • Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis can develop due to normal degeneration in the wrist. It is a common problem for many people after middle age. As the cartilage wears away, it becomes rough and can result in bone rubbing on bone and lead to pain and stiffness in the joint.

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease affecting multiple joints in the body. The word ‘autoimmune’ means that the body's immune system attacks its own tissues.

  • Post-traumatic Arthritis

Post-traumatic arthritis develops after an injury, such as a fractured wrist bone or a torn ligament. This trauma can cause direct damage to the cartilage, resulting in bones grinding against each other leading to inflammation and arthritis.

Symptoms of wrist arthritis

The severity of symptoms varies significantly from patient to patient. The symptoms are not constant for some patients but may come and go. Symptoms of arthritis may include:

  • Pain

  • Swelling

  • Reduced range of motion or stiffness

  • Weakness in the joint and muscle wasting

 

When should I seek medical help?

There are circumstances when wrist pain might be caused or accompanied by severe issues. If such symptoms are present, it is best to seek immediate medical attention to avoid further complications:

  • Pain in your wrist is stopping you from doing normal activities

  • The pain is getting worse

  • The pain has not improved after two weeks of home treatment 

  • Any tingling or loss of sensation in your hand or wrist

  • Painful, warm, swollen and stiff wrists

  • Deformity of wrist or fingers

 

Diagnosis

To diagnose any arthritis of the wrist, your doctor will take your case history and past medical history into account. They will check for any tenderness or deformity, reduced range of motion, joint instability and swelling or other changes in appearance. They may also evaluate the nerve function to determine if you have another condition, such as carpal tunnel syndrome (nerve compression).

Further imaging includes X-rays and blood tests. X-rays of your wrist will provide information on the location and severity of your arthritis. Blood tests can determine which type of arthritis you have.

 

Treatment

There is no cure for arthritis, but several treatments may help to relieve the pain and restore function on your wrist. Some examples of nonsurgical treatment includes: 

  • Activity modification. Stop doing activities that worsen your pain.

  • Immobilisation. Wearing a splint for a short time will help support the joint and reduce your pain. 

  • Medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as naproxen and ibuprofen can help reduce pain and swelling.

  • Exercise. Specific exercises will help improve your wrist's range of motion and function.

  • Steroid injection. Cortisone is a potent anti-inflammatory agent that can be injected into an arthritic joint.

If nonsurgical treatment does not improve your pain or mobilisation, your doctor may recommend surgery. Surgery aims to relieve pain by reducing bone-on-bone contact and preserving or improving hand function.