Wrist surgery can be done to help with concerns like arthritis, fractures, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Surgical techniques and recovery time depend on the exact surgery you have.
We have more than 200 bones in our bodies, along with many more joints, tendons, and muscles.
The wrist is just one area of the body where constant movement over a lifetime can lead to functional or painful conditions that need repair. An orthopedic specialist usually treats these concerns, sometimes with surgery.
This article will review some common types of wrist surgery, what sorts of condition wrist surgery treats, and what to expect if you need surgery on your wrist.
Your wrist is made up of eight bones, plus the tendons, nerves, blood vessels, and muscles that help them move and function. Any of these parts can be broken, strained, or damaged and require repair.
One of the most common surgical procedures done on the wrist is called wrist arthroscopy. Although this is a surgery, it’s also a way to diagnose complicated wrist pain or conditions.
Wrist arthroscopy involves the use of a small camera that a surgeon will insert into the wrist through tiny incisions. This will help them get a better look at issues in your wrist joint or structure.
The surgeon cannot always repair the wrist issue at the same time it is found. But in some cases, immediate treatment is possible.
Wrist arthroscopy is often used to diagnose conditions like:
- ligament tears
- wrist fractures
- unexplained wrist pain
- joint instability
Immediate treatment may be possible when it comes to addressing concerns like:
When these procedures can be done with arthroscopy, it’s usually a less invasive repair that can reduce healing time and your risk of complications. In some cases, though, your injury or issue may be too complex to fix this way, and you will need a traditional open surgery.
Open surgeries give the surgeon larger or more direct access to the area of concern in your wrist. Some examples of common wrist surgeries include:
- open reduction for a fracture
- joint replacement surgery
- wrist arthrodesis or wrist fusion
- removal or growth or cysts
- injury repair
- repair of structural damage or formations
Your surgeon may offer you different options for repair or use particular techniques based on your individual health and the condition or injury being treated.
Implants and joint repairs usually use things like artificial bones, rods, or screws. Surgeries to remove concerns like a cyst don’t usually require any additional hardware.
Your surgeon can discuss the plan for your specific surgery with you.
The length of the surgery depends on:
- the specific repair you need
- why you are having the surgery
- whether it is done with an open or minimally invasive technique
One plus to surgeries involving the wrist is that it is an easy part of the body to get to and position. Your surgeon can access the area they are operating on without going too deep into your body.
A potential downside of surgery on the wrist is that it’s a small area with a lot of important tendons, nerves, and arteries. This can make surgery very complex, which can make it take longer.
Recovery time will depend on:
- the surgical method used
- what repair is being made
- your overall health
In many cases, pain and inflammation after wrist surgery are relatively brief.
You may be given pain-relieving or anti-inflammatory medications and be advised to elevate and ice the wrist that was operated on.
If you need a brace or wrap — or perhaps a cast — to stabilize and protect your wrist after surgery, it could take 6 weeks before you are ready to use your wrist.
The value of wrist surgery varies based on the reason you are having the procedure in the first place. In many cases, healthcare professionals recommend nonsurgical treatment options first.
This might include:
- medications to treat pain or inflammation
- physical therapy
- steroid injections
- supportive care with braces or assistive devices
If your wrist pain, injury, or condition is so severe or painful that you find yourself unable to complete everyday tasks like driving, cooking, writing, or performing personal hygiene tasks, your surgery will probably lead to less pain and complications than the underlying condition.
Yet, the decision to have surgery is best made after careful discussion with your surgeon.
Some conditions that usually lead to surgery on the risk include:
- carpal tunnel syndrome
- joint damage
- bone fracture
- traumatic injuries
- De Quervain’s tenosynovitis
- trigger finger, or stenosing tenosynovitis
- Dupuytren’s disease
- autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis
- nerve compressions, including median nerve (carpal tunnel) and ulnar tunnel (ulnar nerve)
If your surgeon isn’t implanting or replacing something to make a repair, your surgery might involve things like cuts to relieve tension or pressure. Many conditions that require surgery on the wrist develop as a result of inflammation or damage caused by repetitive movements or motions over long periods of time.
Wrist surgery can help with a variety of concerns, from arthritis and carpal tunnel to traumatic injuries like fractures.
How involved these surgeries are and what kind of recovery you will have depends a lot on how the surgery is done.
When possible, most surgeons tend to use minimally invasive methods of repair, like wrist arthroscopy. In some cases, though, traditional open surgeries that require larger incisions might be needed, leading to a lengthier recovery time.