What is arthritis in the wrist?

Arthritis in the wrist is caused by inflammation in the joints. Arthritis damages the smooth cartilage that protects the bones from rubbing against each other. As the disease progresses, the cartilage wears away, which leads to severe joint damage that can’t be repaired.

Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the two most common types of arthritis that affect the wrist joint.

Causes of arthritis in the wrist

Osteoarthritis in the wrist is caused from everyday wear and tear in the wrist joint. As the cartilage wears down from excessive use, it becomes rough and can lead to bone on bone rubbing.

Kienbock’s disease is also a cause of osteoarthritis in the wrist. The blood supply to the lunate bone in the wrist is disrupted, which leads to death in the bone. The death in the bone can lead to arthritis in the joints.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that impacts the smaller joints of the body first. The wrists and hands are typically impacted first. The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown, but there are some researchers who believe there is a genetic connection.

Risk factors for arthritis in the wrist

Risk factors for osteoarthritis in the wrist include:


  • Women develop osteoarthritis in the wrist at an earlier age.
  • 60% of patients over 60 have joint damage.
  • 80% to 90% of patients over 75 have joint damage.


  • Women develop osteoarthritis in the wrist more often than men

Risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis in the wrist include:


  • Rheumatoid arthritis in the wrist strikes people ages 20 to 40.


  • Women are three times more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than men.

Symptoms of arthritis in the wrist

The most common symptoms of arthritis in the wrist are joint pain and stiffness. Some patients won’t feel any pain, and others may feel it constantly.

The symptoms can come and go without a regular pattern. Other symptoms of arthritis in the wrist include:

  • Snapping or locking feeling in the wrists
  • Reduced range of motion
  • Weakness in the wrist joint

Diagnosis of arthritis in the wrist

Arthritis in the wrist is diagnosed in a physical exam by your orthopedic physician. The physician will test your joint strength, range of motion and evaluate your pain level.

The physician will also order an x-ray or blood test. The x-ray will show exactly where the arthritis is located and how severe it is.

In addition, the physician will be able to distinguish which type of arthritis the patient has. The blood tests will be able to help determine which type of arthritis the patient has as well. Rheumatoid arthritis can be confirmed through a blood test, while osteoarthritis can’t.

Treatments for arthritis in the wrist

There is not a cure for arthritis in the wrist, but Mercy Health offers a variety of treatments that will help manage the symptoms of the disease and help patients live active lives.

First-line therapies typically are non-surgical and involve modifying activity, immobilization, medications, exercise and/or steroid injections. 

In severe cases where non-surgical treatments have not been able to alleviate the pain from arthritis in the wrist, surgery may be indicated. The goal of surgery is to relieve the pain and preserve motion in the hand and wrist.

Your physician will work with you to determine which treatment option is best for your case.

More advanced arthritis of the wrist treatments include:

  • Arthroscopic debridement
  • Arthrodesis/fusion surgery
  • Arthroplasty/joint replacement surgery
  • Platelet rich plasma (PRP) injection

Recovery from arthritis in the wrist

Because there is not a cure for arthritis in the wrist, the goal of treatments is to maximize function while minimizing pain.

Depending on the treatment the patient receives, recovery from surgery will take as little as six weeks to as long as six months.

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