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Wrist Joint Replacement


Wrist joint replacement, or wrist arthroplasty, is a procedure that removes the radiocarpal joint which connects your hand to your arm and replaces it with a prosthetic joint. The surgery increases the range of motion in the wrist while helping to reduce pain from either a wrist injury or arthritis.

To help educate patients who may need wrist arthroplasty, we will discuss the types of wrist joint replacements and what one can expect before, during, and after the surgery

What is Wrist Arthroplasty?

Wrist joint replacement surgery is aimed at removing the damaged wrist joint and replacing it with an artificial one. The artificial joint is called a prosthesis and is made from metal with a plastic spacer. The prosthesis joint will function as the natural joint, replicating the many small bones that make up the wrist joint.

The prosthesis will restore natural wrist functions such as straightening and rotating your hand, bending your wrist and ensuring everyday tasks aren’t causing significant pain preventing you from doing them.

When is Wrist Replacement Surgery Needed?

There are several conditions that can lead to a doctor recommending replacing the wrist joint:

  • Injuries, like a bone fracture
  • Arthritis in the wrist, such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis
  • A failed wrist fusion procedure
  • Osteonecrosis, bone tissue degrading due to lack of blood flow. 

Before surgery is recommended, there are several non-surgical treatments suggested:

  • Physical or occupational therapy
  • Steroid injections
  • Wrist splints
  • Topical medications
  • Changing activities and wrist use
  • Paid medications, such as anti-inflammatories

If these give no or minimal relief, your doctor will recommend joint replacement in the wrist and help with:

  • Reduce stiffness and swelling
  • Relieve pain in the joint
  • Restore painless motion in your wrist, hand, and fingers.
  • Remove clicking, cracking, and grinding sounds made while the wrist is moving. 

Wrist Joint Replacement Surgery Outlined

When wrist arthroplasty is recommended, your doctor will refer you to an orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in hand surgery. The surgeon will take several steps before scheduling the procedure to ensure it’s the appropriate treatment:

  • They will ask about any medical conditions and your general health
  • The length of time you’ve had pain in the wrist and how it has impacted your day-to-day.
  • Assess the strength of your wrist and its range of motion
  • Have X-rays ordered
  • Running tests to ensure you’re healthy enough for the procedure 

Wrist Arthroplasty Procedure

The surgery itself is either performed at a hospital or an outpatient surgical center, taking no more than two hours:

  1. Anesthesia is administered through an IV and likely an upper extremity block to give longer-lasting pain relief post-surgery.
  2. An incision is made at the top of the wrist
  3. The wrist joint is removed and any damaged cartilage or bone is cut away
  4. The artificial wrist joint (prosthesis) is placed
  5. The prosthesis is attached to the bones on either side with pins, screws, or cement specifically created for bones
  6. Ensure the artificial joint is secured and test that it moves correctly
  7. Look over the surrounding tendons and nerves, making sure they’re in their correct places
  8. Close the incision before wrapping the wrist in bandages and secured with a splint. 

Recovering from the procedure takes between six and twelve weeks. You’ll be encouraged to do specific exercises to strengthen your wrist, which will likely be painful but that will ease as time goes on. The surgeon may also recommend physical or occupational therapy during your recovery. During recovery at home, there are several things you can do to help your artificial joint last longer and shorten the recovery time:

  • Avoid any major strain on the new joint, such as heavy items or extreme wrist positions
  • Don’t lift more weight than your doctor recommends.
  • Have a friend or family member at home to help with daily tasks following the surgery.
  • Remove any tripping hazards and avoid sports, falls can reinjure your wrist. 

At Proliance Puget Sound Orthopaedics, we provide best-in-class orthopedic care to our community with compassion, caring, and dedicated expertise for shoulder arthroplasty. If you’re suffering from any of the symptoms listed previously or need treatment for joint pain, we encourage you to call (253) 830 – 5200 or request an appointment online to see one of our physicians. 

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