Wrist Arthritis: Causes, Symptoms, Alternative Remedies, and Exercises

Wrist ArthritisWrist pain can be the result of wrist arthritis. It’s a condition that becomes more common with age. The wrist is a complex joint, but there are various remedies and exercises that can help address the symptoms of wrist arthritis.

The wrist is actually made up of many different small joints. Under healthy circumstances, bones glide over each other during movement and are protected by cartilage; however, arthritis damages cartilage. This means that the bones are rubbing directly against each other, leading to inflammation and pain.


Simple tasks can be hard for those who suffer from arthritis in the wrist. While there is no cure for wrist arthritis, with good treatment, many people are able to manage arthritis in wrist symptoms and remain active.

Who Is at High Risk of Wrist Arthritis?

There are a number of wrist arthritis risk factors, including those listed here:

  • Age – Degenerative osteoarthritis is a gradually progressing condition, so the risk increases with age. It is important to note that even though it’s a disease that is usually diagnosed in people over the age of 40, young people can still get it.
  • Gender – Research shows that degenerative osteoarthritis of the wrist is more common in women.
  • Athletics – People who receive a wrist joint injury during high-impact sports are more prone to developing wrist arthritis later on. Football, basketball, hockey, wrestling, and skiing are examples of sports that could lead to wrist joint injury.
  • Obesity – Excess weight can put a lot of pressure on joints. This pressure can put a person at risk for degenerative osteoarthritis, including arthritis in the wrist.
  • Genetics – Family history can be a risk factor. If you have an immediate family member or relative with an arthritic condition, you may be at an increased risk.
  • Smoking – Studies show that smoking contributes to the development of rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Occupation – There are certain occupations, such as painter and carpenter, which call for repetitive physical movements that have been linked to an increased risk of getting degenerative osteoarthritis of the wrist.

Keep in mind that having one or two of the risk factors does not mean you will automatically get wrist arthritis.

Symptoms of Wrist Arthritis

Signs of wrist arthritis are pain, stiffness, and swelling. Development of symptoms usually depends on the type of arthritis and how severe an individual’s condition is. People who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis are more likely to have long-lasting stiffness, swelling, and even redness of the joints. They also feel tired and can have no appetite.

Here’s a quick review of the mild, moderate, and severe arthritis in wrist symptoms:

  • Mild – This is usually described as pain or irritation in the wrist, but it can be hard to describe to a doctor. You may feel pain especially when you turn a door handle, grip something like a golf club or tennis racket, or when you twist the lid of a jar. People who have mild wrist arthritis often complain about a stiff wrist in the morning.
  • Moderate – This is often described as a low-level throbbing. Movement can be a little restricted and pain can be present even when resting. Each time a flare-up occurs, it can be worse than the last episode. With moderate wrist arthritis, signs of inflammation such as swelling and tenderness can become more obvious.
  • Severe – The pain is typically constant, even while at rest. You will likely experience decreased motion and deformity may become noticeable. For some sufferers, the pain and disability become so overwhelming that depression sets in.

What Are the Causes of Wrist Arthritis?

There are a few different wrist arthritis causes that doctors consider when a patient presents with symptoms of pain, stiffness, and swelling.

  • Osteoarthritis – While this is a common issue for people after middle age, it can happen to those who are much younger. It traditionally develops as a result of wear-and-tear in the wrist. It’s the smooth cartilage covering the ends of bone that gradually wears away. When this happens, the cartilage can’t regenerate. Bone rubs on bone and leads to pain and stiffness. Some people develop osteoarthritis if they have Kienbock’s disease. This is when the blood supply to one of the carpal bones (the lunate) is disrupted. Sadly, the bone dies and collapses. This causes arthritis in the joints around the lunate.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis – This is a type of arthritis that can impact multiple joints including the joints in the wrist. It usually affects the same joints on both sides of the body. RA is an autoimmune disease, which means that the immune system attacks its own tissues. Wrist RA can lead to joint deformity and loss of function in the hand. The exact cause is unknown.
  • Posttraumatic arthritis – This can develop following an injury, including a broken wrist bone or a torn ligament. Injuries can cause direct trauma to the cartilage or a delayed wearing of the cartilage. In some individuals, posttraumatic arthritis develops over many years as opposed to right after the initial injury.
  • Gouty arthritis – In these cases, the enzyme that breaks down uric acid into a more soluble product is deficient. This leads to the formation of crystalline uric acid. This is referred to as hyperuricemia, which is a risk factor for gout.
  • Wrist instability – Instability in the wrist normally occurs after an injury to the small ligaments and bones known as “carpal.” When carpal bones and carpal ligaments are injured, they move in an abnormal fashion. This abnormal motion can wear away at the cartilage in the wrist.

How Is Wrist Arthritis Diagnosed?

A wrist arthritis diagnosis is not always easy. Your doctor will begin with a review of your medical history and symptoms, but an examination of your wrist and hand, as well as other tests and procedures, may be needed to pinpoint the cause.

When it comes to the examination, the doctor will be looking for areas of pain and tenderness, reduced range of motion, swelling, as well as any joint instability. Nerve function may also be assessed during an examination to determine if a compression issue, such as carpal tunnel syndrome may be the problem.

The following tests/procedures can help in diagnosing wrist pain:

  • X-rays – An x-ray of the wrist can tell a doctor about the location and severity of arthritis. It may also help distinguish between the different types of arthritis as it can provide detailed images of dense structures.
  • Blood tests – This can be a very good tool for determining the type of arthritis you might have. Some inflammatory conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, can help detect the disease. With RA, blood tests can show antibodies that are referred to as the rheumatoid factor. Osteoarthritis is not a condition that can be detected through blood tests.
  • Fine needle aspiration – This is an analysis of fluid around a joint. It may be able to provide clues as to why joint fluid is accumulating.
  • Ultrasound – An ultrasound-imaging machine can provide a detailed picture of the wrist using high-frequency sound waves.
  • MRI and CT scan – A scan of the wrist joint can help assess the level of damage to the joint and surrounding tissues.
  • Arthroscopy – This is a technique that allows a surgeon to visualize a joint via a camera that is inserted into the joint through a thin tube.

Alternative Remedies for Wrist Arthritis

Wrist arthritis treatment is designed to minimize the symptoms. In the majority of cases, treatment begins with non-surgical approaches. Wrist arthritis alternative remedies are not radical in nature. In fact, they are treatments that are often used for other ailments.

The following list outlines potential treatment options, including some alternative remedies.

  • Activity modification – Treatment for arthritis in the wrist can simply involve limiting or stopping a particular activity or activities that aggravate or trigger symptoms. You could just think of this as a period of resting your wrist.
  • Immobilization – Resting can be taken a step further by wearing a wrist splint for a short time. This can help support the joint and lower the stress placed on it due to constant use.
  • Exercise – There are certain wrist arthritis exercises that can be done to improve range of motion. You should be talking to a doctor about the best exercises for your particular needs. Your doctor may suggest working with a physical therapist that can guide you through light motion exercises.
  • Heat and ice – Some people find relief when applying a damp heated towel or ice to the wrist joint.
  • Contrast soaks – This means switching back and forth between soaking in warm and cold water to relieve swelling.
  • Medications – There are some cases where anti-inflammatory medications or topical ointments are recommended to address wrist arthritis symptoms.
  • Injections – There is an anti-inflammatory agent that can be injected right into the joint. It is important to know that the effects of such injections are often temporary.

Exercises for Wrist Arthritis

Wrist exercises for arthritis can take on many different forms. While consulting with your doctor and a qualified physical therapist is advisable before doing any regular exercise routine for the wrist, the movements outlined here will give you a good sense of what is required for wrist arthritis exercises.

  • Wrist circles – this involves resting your wrist against a flat surface and allowing your hand to hang off the edge. You then perform five clockwise and five counter-clockwise hand circles of the wrist.
  • Windshield wipers – With this wrist exercise, you rest your hands in the same position that you would for wrist circles but you imagine that your wrists are windshield wipers. Swivel them from side to side. You can do 10 to 12 repetitions.
  • Twisting – You begin with your wrists against a flat surface so that the palms face the floor. Rotate the wrists so the palms face the ceiling and then rotate them back to face the floor again. You can try to do this 10 times.
  • Tennis ball circles – Similar to risk circles, only with a tennis ball. You hold the ball with one hand and place it against the wall. Perform five clockwise and five counter-clockwise circles in each direction, then switch to the other hand.
  • Squeeze the ball – This wrist exercise involves holding a tennis ball and squeezing it hard as if you’re trying to make a fist. Do this five times and then repeat with the other hand.
  • Wrist strengthening – Place your hands in the prayer position then try to bend your left wrist back. Resist the movement with your right hand. Repeat this exercise in the opposite direction.
  • Backstretches – Hold your right arm straight out in front of you with your palm facing the floor. You can then use your left hand to gently press down on your right hand so your fingers are pointing down. You should be pressing until you feel a stretch in the arm and the back of your wrist. Hold the stretch for about 5 to 10 seconds, release and repeat up to 10 times. Repeat this exercise with the other wrist.
  • Front stretches – This is like the backstretch only you use your left hand to gently pull back on your fingers so that your fingers point toward the ceiling. Pull back until you feel a stretch in the front/underside of your wrist. Hold the stretch for several seconds and repeat 10 times before doing it on the other hand.

Tips for Wrist Arthritis Patients

If you have been diagnosed with arthritis, one of the best approaches to managing it is to live a healthy lifestyle that includes a nutritious diet, adequate sleep, and exercise.

It is important to not overdo it with activities that can cause discomfort. Taking breaks in between tasks can be helpful. Many people find that they can modify how they work to reach their goals. For instance, there are alternative devices that can make a task easier to carry out. This includes tools for domestic and cooking activities.


It’s also important to not be afraid to ask family and friends for help during flare-ups. In terms of a healthy diet, including fish, low-fat milk, whole grains, and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables is a good idea. Staying hydrated by drinking a lot of water is advisable.

Following up with a doctor on a regular basis may seem like an inconvenience, but if you have been diagnosed with wrist arthritis, those follow-ups are crucial. They help keep you on a healthier track and give you a much better chance of avoiding pain and extreme immobility.

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Author Bio

Emily Lunardo studied medical sociology at York University with a strong focus on the social determinants of health and mental illness. She is a registered Zumba instructor, as well as a Canfit Pro trainer, who teaches fitness classes on a weekly basis. Emily practices healthy habits in her own life as well as helps others with their own personal health goals. Emily joined Bel Marra Health as a health writer in 2013.



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