Arthroscopy Treatment for Wrist Pain

Arthroscopic surgery is a surgical procedure to insert a small camera inside a joint. An arthroscopy can be performed on any joint in the body, but it is most commonly performed in the knee and shoulder joints. That said, many surgeons are performing arthroscopic surgery on other joints including the hips, ankle, elbow, and the wrist. Through small incisions, instruments can be inserted to repair or remove damaged structures. Wrist arthroscopy, often called "scoping the wrist," is a treatment option for some types of wrist pain.

Surgeon performing wrist arthroscopy
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Good Reasons to Scope the Wrist

There are some surgical procedures that can be done either arthroscopically or through a normal incision. However, some are best accomplished through the use of an arthroscopic approach. Probably the best reason to consider an arthroscopic wrist procedure, compared to a traditional open surgery, is to surgically address cartilage problems, including damage to the triangular fibrocartilage complex (TFCC). The TFCC is a wedge of cartilage, much like the meniscus in the knee, that is important to wrist stability and motion. Damage to the TFCC can cause pain, swelling, and clicking sensations.

Treatment of TFCC tears is often best accomplished arthroscopically, and probably the best reason to consider an arthroscopic approach to the wrist joint. Smaller TFCC tears can be trimmed, while larger TFCC tears will usually be repaired. There are also some other conditions that can be well addressed by arthroscopic wrist surgery.

Possible Reasons for Wrist Arthroscopy

Treatment of Ligament Injuries/Instability

Ligament injuries of the wrist can be difficult to assess without visually inspecting the ligament. An arthroscopic procedure can help define the extent of ligament injury. If ligament damage is found, then surgery may require a larger incision to repair the ligaments.

Treatment of Specific Types of Wrist Fractures

Wrist fractures that mostly involve the cartilage of the wrist joint (rather than bone further away from the joint) can be treated with wrist arthroscopy. Some surgeons may choose to use the camera to visually inspect the cartilage of the joint to ensure it is lined up perfectly. Only a small percentage of wrist fractures require the use of arthroscopy to aid in their treatment.

Treatment of Ganglion Cysts

Some surgeons are choosing to treat ganglion cysts arthroscopically. Most ganglion cysts develop from the capsule surrounding the joint, and the cyst itself is filled with joint fluid. By addressing the cyst from the source of the problem, some surgeons feel they can lower the chance of the ganglion cyst coming back.

It May Not Always Be Best

Not every cause of wrist pain can be helped with an arthroscopic procedure. Furthermore, some of these procedures are uncommon and should only be performed by surgeons who routinely perform wrist arthroscopy. If you have questions about whether or not wrist arthroscopy may be appropriate for your condition, you should discuss this with your healthcare provider.

The Procedure

The surgical procedure to perform a wrist arthroscopy can either be done under general or regional anesthesia. After adequate anesthesia, your surgeon will create 'portals' to gain access to the wrist joint. The portals are placed in specific locations to minimize the potential for injury to surrounding nerves, blood vessels, and tendons. Through one portal, a camera is placed into the joint, and through others, small instruments can be used to address the problem.

The length of the wrist arthroscopy procedure varies depending on what your healthcare provider needs to accomplish. After surgery, a soft bandage or splint will be placed. Most patients will work with a physical therapist to regain motion and strength of the joint. The length of rehabilitation will also vary depending on what is performed at the time of surgery.

Complications of wrist arthroscopy and uncommon, but they can occur. These complications may include nerve injury, tendon injury, infection, and reflex sympathetic dystrophy. Some complications may have a higher risk when compared to traditional open surgery, while arthroscopy may lower the chance of other complications. Discuss with your surgeon the risks of any specific procedure you are considering having performed on your wrist.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading
  • Gupta R, et al. "Wrist Arthroscopy: Principles and Clinical Applications. J. Am. Acad. Ortho. Surg., May/June 2001; 9: 200 - 209.

By Jonathan Cluett, MD
Jonathan Cluett, MD, is board-certified in orthopedic surgery. He served as assistant team physician to Chivas USA (Major League Soccer) and the United States men's and women's national soccer teams.