Wrist Arthritis

What is wrist arthritis?

More than 40 million people in the U.S. have some type of arthritis, a condition which can affect multiple joints throughout the body. It can result in breakdown of the cartilage causing damage that is painful and debilitating. There are three general types of arthritis that can affect the wrist:

  • Osteoarthritis. Also called “wear and tear” arthritis, osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that gradually worsens over time. The cartilage that covers the ends of bones to ensure smooth motion of the joint gradually wears down. This develops as a result of a combination of the natural aging process and is influenced by genetic factors.
  • Inflammatory arthritis. This includes conditions such as rheumatoid and gouty related arthritis. This is a painful disease that often affects multiple joints at the same time, including the wrists and knees. It occurs when the bodies own immune system attacks and damages the synovial membrane, which surrounds the cartilage and produces lubrication fluid for the joint.
  • Post-traumatic arthritis. Post-traumatic arthritis occurs when an injury directly or indirectly damages the cartilage of a joint and a process of degeneration and inflammation.

What are the symptoms of wrist arthritis?

All types of arthritis have symptoms of pain, swelling and stiffness. The inflammation associated with arthritis often leaves the joint warm to the touch and can even redden the skin. As cartilage damage occurs, the joint reacts producing increased fluid. This results in pain, stiffness and inflammation. Some symptoms differ according to type of arthritis.

Osteoarthritis symptoms:

  • Bony nodules/deformity at the joints
  • Deep pain at base of thumb (basilar arthritis)
  • Difficulty gripping or pinching objects
  • Loss of motion
  • Stiffness, particularly in the morning

Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms:

  • Systemically affected joints, such as both wrists
  • Flu-like feeling throughout body
  • Fatigue

Post-traumatic arthritis:

This can be a combination of many of the rheumatoid or osteoarthritis symptoms.

Careful examination from the physicians at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush (MOR) Hand, Wrist & Elbow Institute can determine the type and extent of arthritic damage, and develop and comprehensive course of treatment.

Who is likely to get wrist arthritis?

Wrist arthritis can affect people of all ages, yet each type of arthritis has different groups at risk. Osteoarthritis is more common with age but can occur relatively early if there are genetic factors increasing the risk. It causes more disability in active people. Rheumatoid arthritis is found more commonly in women and post traumatic arthritis can occur in anyone after an injury. These are some of the most common risk factors for arthritis:

  • Gender — more prominent in women
  • Active lifestyle
  • Genetics
  • Advanced age
  • Injury to joint

What causes wrist arthritis?

There are many causal factors in the development of arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis may be associated with genetic factors, viral or bacterial infections or even hormones. Post-traumatic arthritis is caused by damage to the cartilage from an accident or injury.

How is wrist arthritis diagnosed?

Wrist arthritis is diagnosed through a careful examination of the wrist and other joints throughout the body. The specialists at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush (MOR) consider factors such as pain, joint mobility, swelling, appearance and lifestyle to help determine diagnosis. An X-ray or other imaging tests may be performed to inspect bones for degeneration and search for thinning between bones in the joint. In some cases, rheumatoid arthritis can be diagnosed with blood or joint fluid tests that check for inflammatory indicators.

What are the treatment options for wrist arthritis?

Treatment for wrist arthritis is meant to restore function, reduce pain and prevent further damage. The MOR Hand, Wrist & Elbow Institute physicians may recommend any of the following treatment options based on the specific needs of each patient:

Non-surgical Treatment Options

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID)
  • Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
  • Biologics, which are genetically engineered proteins
  • Steroids
  • Physical or occupational therapy
  • Exercise
  • Cortisone injections
  • Lubrication injections
  • Braces, or assistive devices

Surgical Treatment Options

  • Joint reconstruction: This is an option for those who do not have severe bone degeneration. A reconstruction procedure can clean and smooth cartilage and remove painful bone spurs. This procedure may not be adequate for patients with rheumatoid arthritis or advanced osteoarthritis.
  • Joint fusion: In this case, cartilage is removed from the affected area and the bones are fused (welded) together. This is done by transplanting (grafting) a piece of bone from the hip or radius (arm bone on the thumb side), into the wrist bones. This encourages the ends of the bone to grow together into one. Another means of securing the bones together is by a fixation device. The two most common fixation devices are a pin through the bones to fuse them or a plate attached to the bones so they move and act as one. These procedures may result in decreased range of motion, but overall increase hand function and decrease pain.
  • Joint replacement: During this procedure, some of the bones in the wrist are replaced with an artificial prosthesis. The prosthesis has two pieces, one that attaches to the radius bone in the forearm and one that attaches to the bones in the hand. They rest together and restore the ability to bend the wrist, unlike a wrist fusion.

Patients who experience wrist arthritis can see a board certified orthopedic surgeon at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush Hand, Wrist & Elbow Institute, ranked among the top in the nation for diagnoses and treatment of wrist conditions.