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How Does Osteoarthritis Affect Your Wrists?

Are you struggling with a wrist that’s swollen, stiff, or painful? These signs indicate you may have osteoarthritis of the wrist. Although many people think of arthritis as affecting the hips or knees, the truth is this degenerative condition can affect any joint in your body.   

Board-certified orthopedic surgeons David Chao, MD, head team physician for the San Diego Chargers, and Matthew Gargulinski, DO, and the rest of our care team at OasisMD Lifestyle Healthcare, in San Diego, Encinitas, and Temecula, California, offer expert help with many orthopedic concerns — including osteoarthritis of the wrist.   

If you’re wondering whether your wrist pain is caused by osteoarthritis, keep reading to learn more about this joint condition, how it affects your wrists, and the treatments that can provide relief. 

What is osteoarthritis of the wrist? 

All forms of osteoarthritis (OA) involve the wearing away of the cartilage, which is the tough, flexible tissue in your joints that cushions your bones. As this progressive condition wears away the cartilage, the bones begin to rub against each other causing stiffness, pain, swelling, and decreased range of motion. 

The two bones in your forearm, the ulna and radius, are connected to eight carpal bones between your fingers and arms by your wrist joint. This complex joint is covered with articular cartilage to help your wrist, hand, and fingers move freely.    

Researchers estimate about 14% of Americans have osteoarthritis of the wrist. You can develop wrist OA for different reasons. In many cases, a previous injury to the wrist creates small changes in the anatomy of the joint or damage to the cartilage. As you use your wrist, over time the cartilage wears away faster because of the previous injury.   

How does osteoarthritis affect my wrist?

Osteoarthritis of the wrist can make getting through your daily activities a challenge. The limited range of motion, stiffness, swelling, pain, and weakness wrist OA causes can make even the simplest tasks, like opening a jar or holding a pen, difficult. 

In the early stages of wrist OA, you may notice symptoms only when using your wrist. Once your wrists are at rest, the pain may subside and come back only when you move it again. As the disease progresses, your symptoms may become more persistent.

When you have OA of the wrist, you’re also at higher risk of developing a condition called Kienböck’s disease. This debilitating condition can develop if OA causes a deterioration in the blood supply to one of your carpal bones. 

Are there treatments for wrist osteoarthritis?

Before beginning any treatment, it’s important to receive an accurate diagnosis. OA of the wrist shares symptoms with other conditions that may require different treatment protocols, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, and inflammatory arthritis.    

Your provider at OasisMD Lifestyle Healthcare first asks you about your symptoms and reviews your medical history. You can expect a physical exam that looks for swelling, pain, and how your symptoms affect your range of motion and wrist/grip strength. 

Depending on their findings, you may undergo image testing, like X-rays or an MRI, to examine the damage to the joining. And to rule out other types of arthritis, such as psoriatic or rheumatoid arthritis, your OasisMD Lifestyle Healthcare provider may order blood work. 

Once your diagnosis is complete, your OasisMD Lifestyle Healthcare team designs a custom-tailored treatment plan tailored to help you manage your symptoms and retain the use of your wrist and hand for as long as possible.

Treatments vary based on the severity of the deterioration of the joint and your symptoms. For mild to moderate wrist OA, your provider may recommend: 

If your wrist OA is more severe or if your symptoms are interfering significantly with your ability to carry out your regular tasks, your OasisMD Lifestyle Healthcare may recommend a type of wrist surgery called wrist arthroscopy

This minimally invasive surgery allows your provider to examine the internal structures of your wrist using a small tube called an arthroscope, which is connected to a camera. Your surgeon can then target the inflamed areas, providing you relief from your OA symptoms. 

Learn more about the effects of wrist OA and how we can help by contacting the experts at OasisMD Lifestyle Healthcare in San Diego, Temecula, or Encinitas, California. Schedule an appointment by calling the office nearest you or by booking online. 

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