Arthritis involves inflammation of one or more of your joints. Pain and stiffness are common symptoms of arthritis, and when these occur in your wrist, simple daily activities can become more difficult.
There are many types of arthritis, and most of these can affect the wrist. Although the severity of symptoms related to arthritis can vary, most arthritis-related diseases are chronic. This means that they are long-lasting—even permanent—and can eventually cause serious joint damage.
Your wrist is a complex joint—it is actually made up of multiple small joints. When healthy, the bones glide easily over each other during movement, protected by smooth cartilage that coats the joint surfaces. Arthritis damages this cartilage. As the disease progresses, there is a gradual loss of cartilage. Without a smooth joint surface, the bones rub against each other, leading to joint damage that cannot be repaired.
Although there is no cure for arthritis today, there are many treatment options available to help relieve your symptoms. Some options may also slow the progression of joint damage. With proper treatment, many people are able to manage their symptoms and stay active.
Although there are many types of arthritis, the three that most commonly affect the wrist are:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Posttraumatic arthritis
Not all patients with arthritis will experience symptoms. When they do occur, the severity varies greatly from patient to patient. For some patients, the symptoms are not constant—but may come and go depending on their level of activity and other factors.
Symptoms of arthritis may include:
- Reduced range of motion or stiffness
- Weakness in the joint
Your doctor will talk with you about your overall health and medical history and ask you to describe your symptoms. He or she will perform a careful examination of your hand and wrist, looking for:
- Reduced range of motion
- Any areas of pain or tenderness
- Joint instability
- Swelling or other changes in appearance
During the examination, your doctor may also evaluate:
- Finger and thumb mobility—To determine how well your tendons and joints are functioning
- Nerve function—To determine if you have another condition that may be affecting your wrist, such as carpal tunnel syndrome (nerve compression)
X-rays. X-rays provide detailed images of dense structures, such as bone. X-rays of your wrist will help your doctor learn more about the exact location and severity of your arthritis. They can also help your doctor distinguish between various types of arthritis.
Blood tests. Your doctor may recommend blood tests to determine which type of arthritis you have. With rheumatoid and other types of inflammatory arthritis, blood tests are important for an accurate diagnosis. Osteoarthritis is not associated with blood abnormalities.