Wrist Osteoarthritis Causes and Symptoms

Is your wrist painful and stiff? Is it swollen? These are signs that you may have osteoarthritis of the wrist. Osteoarthritis can affect joints in any part of the body, including the wrist. Early diagnosis and treatment can help people with wrist osteoarthritis manage their symptoms.

Woman holding her wrist because of pain
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Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that involves the gradual wear and tear of cartilage, a tough but flexible tissue that covers the ends of the bones in a joint. That's the nature of the disease but what is the specific cause of osteoarthritis of the wrist?

Injuries to the wrist, whether sprains or fractures, can change the anatomy of the wrist. The injury can damage the articular cartilage (the type of cartilage present in the joints). When severely damaged, cartilage may even be torn away from the bone.

With any injury that causes abnormal joint movement, there is an increased stress on the articular cartilage. Over time, the changes in the joint mechanics cause damage that can lead to wrist osteoarthritis.


The diagnosis of wrist osteoarthritis begins with your medical history and your description of your symptoms. The most important information to disclose to your healthcare provider is a description of past injuries involving the wrist.

Your healthcare provider will perform a physical examination of your wrist to see how your wrist moves, whether it has normal alignment, and where the pain is located. Your healthcare provider will likely order an x-ray to assess joint damage, so they can gauge if it is worsening over time.

Also, blood tests may be ordered to rule out other types of arthritis. This would be done if there was any uncertainty about your diagnosis or the type of arthritis you have.


As with any joint affected by osteoarthritis, the primary symptom associated with wrist osteoarthritis is pain. In the early stages of osteoarthritis, pain is brought on by activity. Usually, if you stop the activity, the pain subsides. Once the activity is restarted, the pain and stiffness increase again.

Aside from pain, other symptoms associated with wrist osteoarthritis include:

  • Swelling of the wrist
  • Fluid around the wrist joints
  • Crepitus (crackling) when the wrist is moved
  • Stiffness and a limited range of motion


Usually, conservative treatment options are tried first, and surgery is considered as the last resort for those not getting a satisfactory response. The goals for treatment of wrist osteoarthritis are to relieve pain and improve joint function. Treatment options include:

Surgical options include wrist fusion and wrist replacement. Both are excellent for pain relief, but with fusion, there is little or no motion left in the wrist. Wrist fusions involve 12 or 13 bones that need to be fused together. Your healthcare provider will help you decide if you are a candidate for either procedure and, considering your work and lifestyle, which is better for you.

3 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.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. Arthritis of the wrist and hand.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Arthritis of the wrist and hand: Diagnosis and tests.

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Arthritis of the wrist and hand: Management and treatment.

By Carol Eustice
Carol Eustice is a writer who covers arthritis and chronic illness. She is the author of "The Everything Health Guide to Arthritis."