Could You Have
Wrist Arthritis?

Arthritis can affect any joint in the body. Could wrist arthritis be the source of your wrist joint pain? What are your treatment options? Learn more about this wrist condition and what you can do to relieve your joint pain.

Wrist Anatomy

The wrist is comprised of the radius and ulna bones of the forearm and the carpal bones of the hand. The wrist moves in six different ways including wrist flexion and extension (up and down), radial and ulnar flexion (side to side), pronation and supination (forearm rotation).

As with other joints of the body, the ends of the bones are lined with thin cartilage called articular cartilage. Damage or wearing of this cartilage lining can lead to exposure and injury to the underlying bone leading to inflammation. Arthritis is inflammation of the joint.

Typical Signs and Symptoms

Arthritis of the wrist will result in symptoms of wrist joint pain and stiffness. Stiffness is generally greater after prolonged rest, such as in the morning, and improves with active motion. In addition to joint pain the joint can also appear swollen and red depending on the severity of the inflammation. Functional activities such as gripping, lifting, and twisting the wrist can be painful and limited.

Cause of Wrist Arthritis

As with osteoarthritis in other joints, overuse is the most common cause of wrist joint arthritis. Previous trauma such as a wrist fracture can damage the articular cartilage and over the long term increase the risk of developing arthritis.

Other disease processes can influence the development of wrist arthritis. Systemic diseases such as Rheumatoid arthritis and Psoriatic Arthritis frequently impact the joints of the hands and wrists.

Treatment Options

As with other forms of arthritis symptoms, reducing inflammation is the first treatment goal. The use of ice therapy is an easy means of reducing local inflammation. Apply ice for 10 minutes two to three times a day.

Anti-inflammatory medication can also be utilized (consult your doctor regarding medications) and anti-inflammatory creams such as Voltaren gel can also be effective in reducing inflammation. In cases in which oral anti-inflammatory medication is not effective, cortisone injections may be the next treatment option.

Important to reducing inflammation and joint stress is avoiding or minimizing aggravating activities. If activities utilizing the wrist and hands are necessary, the use of a wrist splint can be helpful in protecting the wrist joint.

wrist splint

Physical therapy is also an effective treatment option in helping to reduce pain and restore normal mobility and function. The use of modalities including ultrasound, iontophoresis, and fluido therapy can help to reduce joint stiffness and pain. Manual joint mobilizations can help to improve wrist range of motion and soft tissue massage can help reduce localized swelling.

Muscles act as shock absorbers for joints and help to reduce joint stress. Once pain improves, incorporating strengthening exercises into the treatment program will help to restore function. Strengthening for the hand can be accomplished using hand putty and for the wrist using light weights.


In cases in which conservative treatment has failed and significant pain and functional limitation remain, surgery may be recommended. Surgery options can include wrist fusion or wrist joint replacement. If you are considering wrist surgery, seek out an orthopedic surgeon that specializes in the hand and wrist.


• Wrist arthritis is inflammation of the bones of the wrist.

• Overuse, trauma, and other arthritic diseases can be the underlying cause of the development of arthritis.

• Treatment choices include anti-inflammatory medications and creams, ice therapy, cortisone injections, and physical therapy.

• Surgery should only be considered after conservative treatment has failed and considerable pain and limitation remain.

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