In order to understand this condition, it is important to understand the anatomy and function of the wrist and hand. Please read Wrist Pain Info / Hand Pain Info’s sections on wrist anatomy and hand anatomy. For information on the biomechanics of the wrist and hand please read Wrist Pain Info / Hand Pain Info’s section on wrist and hand biomechanics.
What is osteoarthritis?
The wrist is surrounded by a special type of tissue called a joint capsule. The capsule has a thin lining called the synovium which produces “synovial fluid”. This fluid works to reduce friction and wear inside the wrist.
Articular cartilage is a smooth shiny material that covers parts of the bones inside the wrist. Inside the wrist there is articular cartilage anywhere that two bony surfaces come into contact with each other. Synovial fluid and healthy articular cartilage work together to allow the bones in the wrist to move easily and pain-free.
The word arthritis means inflammation (swelling) of a joint. Osteoarthritis is the term used to describe damage to articular cartilage inside joints. Osteoarthritis, also called “wear and tear” arthritis is the most common type of arthritis.
What is osteoarthritis of the wrist?
The wrist has 8 bones in it. There are a number of small joints between these bones. Osteoarthritis can affect the articular cartilage of any or all of these small joints.
In osteoarthritis the articular cartilage in the wrist begins to “wear out”. Over time the articular cartilage can thin or form cracks. Tiny pieces of cartilage may come loose and float inside the wrist, further irritating the wrist. After a longer period of time the cartilage can become completely “worn away” and the bones begin to rub together.
What does osteoarthritis of the wrist feel like?
Osteoarthritis usually comes on slowly and results in pain, stiffness and/or swelling of the affected joints. Bumps or nodes may appear around the affected joints. When the joints are moved a grating sound may be heard. Sometimes the wrist can have a mild amount of osteoarthritis and feel perfectly fine.
What causes osteoarthritis of the wrist?
No one knows for sure what causes osteoarthritis to develop in the wrist but some risk factors include:
- Previous wrist injury or fracture
- Family history of osteoarthritis
- Damage to the wrist from another type of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout
- Increasing age
- Repetitive activity with hands and wrists over a period of time
Can osteoarthritis of the wrist be detected on X-ray?
In some cases osteoarthritis of the wrist can be diagnosed based on the medical history and physical examination. An x-ray may be ordered to determine how much joint damage there is. Sometimes blood tests or joint fluid tests are ordered to confirm the diagnosis or to distinguish between different types of arthritis. Other tests like bone scans or MRI’s are not usually required.
What is the treatment for osteoarthritis of the wrist?
Treatment options for osteoarthritis of the wrist include exercises to improve range of motion of the wrist, strengthening exercises, medications to relieve pain and swelling, education on activity modification, heat/cold therapy, wrist splints, injections and in some cases surgery. Doctors and physical therapists that deal with people who have osteoarthritis of the wrist can help outline a treatment program.
What other information is available on osteoarthritis of the wrist?
The diagnosis and treatment of wrist varies depending on the severity of the problem. Wrist Pain Info / Hand Pain Info’s links section has additional information on osteoarthritis of the wrist. Links have been provided to other websites as well as online medical journals. Visit Joint Pain Info for information on other joint injuries and problems.