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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Causes

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease tha tinvolves the gradual wear and teat of the cartilage, a tough but flexible tissue that covers the ends of the bones forming 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.

Diagnosis

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

Your doctor 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. You will likely be asked to do an x-ray to assess joint damage, so your doctor 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.

Symptoms

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

Treatments

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 fuse together. Your doctor will help you decide if you are a candidate for either procedure and, considering your work and lifestyle, which is better for you.

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Article Sources
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  1. Cleveland Clinic. Arthritis of the Wrist and Hand. Updated January 4, 2017.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Arthritis of the Wrist and Hand: Diagnosis and Tests. Updated January 4, 2017.

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Arthritis of the Wrist and Hand: Management and Treatment. Updated January 4, 2017.