Wristy Business: Symptoms of and Treatment for Arthritis in the Wrist

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  • Stiffness and Pain

    Stiffness and Pain

    An aching wrist may be a sign that your joints suffer from arthritis. Symptoms of this inflammatory condition include stiffness, swelling, and pain of affected joints.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), half of all U.S. adults over the age of 65 report some form of osteoarthritis (OA) or rheumatoid arthritis (RA). People with RA are more likely to have arthritis in their wrists.

    Click here to learn more about symptoms of and treatment for wrist arthritis.

  • How Mild Wrist Arthritis Feels

    How Mild Wrist Arthritis Feels

    If you have mild arthritis, you may have a hard time describing to your doctor exactly how your wrist feels. You may only be able to say, “My wrist hurts,” or, “I feel pain deep within my wrist.”

    Patients with mild arthritis report that their wrist feels stiff in the morning. With activity, it may feel better by midday, but may be painful again by nightfall.

  • How Moderate Wrist Arthritis Feels

    How Moderate Wrist Arthritis Feels

    If you have moderate arthritis in your wrist, you’re likely to tell your doctor you feel a low level of throbbing at all times. Activities make the ache worse. You may have given up your favorite sports, such as tennis, due to arthritis in your wrist.

    Daily tasks may also become tricky. Difficulty opening a jar or turning your car keys can indicate that your symptoms are worsening.

  • How Severe Wrist Arthritis Feels

    How Severe Wrist Arthritis Feels

    If almost any activity hurts your wrist, you might have severe arthritis. You may not even want your doctor to touch your wrist during your exam.

    If your pain is so bad that you need to take prescription drugs such as NSAIDs or narcotics to feel better, you may have severe arthritis. In severe arthritis, your wrist may appear swollen. You also may hear cracking sounds when you rotate, flex, or extend your wrist.

  • Diagnosis


    To diagnose arthritis, your doctor will examine your wrist for swelling. The location of the swelling can tell your doctor which wrist joints are most affected. The range of motion of your fingers also tells a story. Problems in the wrist can affect peripheral tendons.

    Next, your doctor will examine the range of motion in your wrist itself. They’ll ask you to twist and flex both wrists in every direction. Finally, they’ll manipulate your wrist and thumb joints, checking for the main areas of your complaint.

  • Splints and Rest

    Splints and Rest

    A wrist splint may help with temporary or even long-term arthritis relief. You can order a custom-made splint to cover your wrist and forearm. A custom splint, which you wear at night, keeps your wrist extended 15 degrees and allows your fingers to wiggle.

    A simple step that may help you avoid wrist surgery is modifying your activities. You may need to avoid manual labor, golf, and weightlifting, for example.

  • Anti-Inflammatories and Other Medications

    Anti-Inflammatories and Other Medications

    Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) work to tamp down inflammation in the wrist joints. Aspirin and ibuprofen are both NSAIDs. If you have kidney insufficiency or gastrointestinal problems, your doctor won’t likely keep you on NSAIDs for a long time.

    If you have acute flares from your arthritis, steroids may be in order. A prescription steroidal drug called methylprednisolone may help address your pain.

  • Injections


    Steroid injections also can bring you relief. If your symptoms are moderate or severe, your doctor may offer you injections. Steroid injections often bring about at least a temporary improvement in arthritis symptoms.

    If you’ve tried all these methods, your doctor may suggest that you progress to others. More advanced treatments include disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and surgery, in which a surgeon can remove bones, fuse bones, or replace them.