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Wrist Arthritis Causes, Symptoms & Treatment Options

The wrist is a complex joint that connects your hand to your forearm. Wrist arthritis is a common cause of pain, swelling, and stiffness in this joint. Over time, wrist arthritis can make it difficult to move your hand and perform daily tasks.

Wrist Arthritis Hero Image 2


The wrist is a complex joint that connects your hand to your forearm. Wrist arthritis is a common cause of pain, swelling, and stiffness in this joint. Over time, wrist arthritis can make it difficult to move your hand and perform daily tasks.

Arthritis is a chronic condition that involves inflammation in one or more joints. There are many types of arthritis, and the three most likely to affect the wrist include:


  • Osteoarthritis: Occurs when the smooth cartilage in the joints breaks down or wears down over time.
  • Post-traumatic arthritis: Inflammation that develops in the joint after an injury.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: Occurs when your immune cells mistakenly attack healthy cells in the body. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system attacks the joint. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect multiple joints at the same time, and it commonly occurs in the wrist.

What causes Wrist Arthritis?

Causes of wrist arthritis vary based on the type of disease. The most common causes of wrist arthritis include:

  • Wear-and-tear damage to your joints, which can lead to osteoarthritis
  • A previous wrist injury, that may lead to post-traumatic arthritis
  • Autoimmune disease, which can trigger rheumatoid arthritis

Wrist arthritis is most common among athletes who participate in sports that require repetitive hand and wrist motions, including:

  • Golf
  • Tennis
  • Baseball

You may be at an increased risk of post-traumatic wrist arthritis if you play a high-contact sport, such as:

  • Hockey
  • Football
  • Wrestling



The specific symptoms you experience depend on the cause of your arthritis. Generally, symptoms of wrist arthritis include:

  • Wrist pain
  • Swelling
  • Limited range of motion
  • Weakness in the wrist

Arthritis symptoms can range from mild to severe, and not everyone with arthritis experiences symptoms. Mild symptoms may come and go, while severe arthritis can cause constant pain and difficulty moving your wrist.

When to see a doctor


Seek medical care if you have wrist arthritis symptoms that are severe or that worsen over time.

During your appointment, your doctor will review your medical history and carefully examine your wrist and hand. They will also evaluate the range of motion and stability of your wrist as well as check for areas of tenderness. In order to make an accurate diagnosis, your doctor may prescribe the following tests:

  • X-rays to determine the exact location and severity of arthritis
  • Blood tests to confirm or rule out rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune diseases

Non-operative treatment


There’s currently no cure for arthritis, but treatment can help manage your symptoms, relieve pain, and improve your quality of life. Arthritis treatment usually begins with non-operative methods, such as:

  • Modifying or reducing activities that exacerbate symptoms
  • Immobilizing the wrist in a splint
  • Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen, to reduce swelling
  • Doing targeted exercises to improve the range of motion of the wrist
  • Getting steroid injections for pain relief and to reduce inflammation

Try these exercises to help address your condition:

Below is a PDF of the exercise program.

Wrist Arthritis

Surgical Treatment

If you continue to suffer from pain and symptoms of wrist arthritis despite conservative treatment, your doctor may recommend surgical intervention. Various surgical procedures can treat wrist arthritis. Depending on your specific needs, your doctor may recommend one of the following:

  • Proximal row carpectomy: A procedure that involves removing one of the two rows of wrist bones and is used to treat advanced osteoarthritis.
  • Partial or complete wrist fusion: A procedure used to fuse certain bones, or all bones, of the wrist to limit movement and therefore decrease pain. This procedure is usually used to treat advanced arthritis.
  • Total wrist replacement: Also referred to as total wrist arthroplasty, a procedure that replaces the joint that connects the hand and the arm with an artificial (prosthetic) one.



Arthritis is a chronic disease, which means it continues throughout your life. Although it can be discouraging to find out you have wrist arthritis, managing the symptoms that come and go can make it easier to live with this condition.

If you need surgery, the recovery period will vary based on which procedure was performed. After your procedure, you’ll wear a cast for several weeks and you will need to wear a splint for 6 to 8 weeks after the cast comes off. For the best outcomes, follow your doctor’s instructions for recovery, and be sure to perform physical therapy exercises as directed.

Ask your doctor when it’s safe for you to resume usual activities or how you should modify certain activities, including sports, to manage symptoms.