Wrist replacement is surgery that replaces your radiocarpal joint, which connects your hand to your arm. It’s also called wrist arthroplasty. The procedure reduces pain and increases range of motion. It’s a potential treatment for people with wrist injury or arthritis. A new wrist joint can last an average of 10 to 15 years.
Wrist replacement is surgery to remove a damaged wrist joint and replace it with an artificial joint. The replacement part, called a prosthesis, is typically made of metal, with a polyethylene (plastic) spacer. It’s manufactured to work like a normal, healthy wrist. Arthroplasty is the medical term for joint replacement.
Your wrist is a complex joint containing many small bones. It connects your hand and forearm (the lower half of your arm, from your elbow to your hand). Your wrist joint is also called your radiocarpal joint.
Your wrist joint helps you bend, straighten and rotate your hand. It moves during many everyday activities, such as waving, washing your hair, typing or picking something up. If your joint is severely damaged or stiff, many daily tasks can be painful.
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Joint fusion (arthrodesis) is surgery that permanently connects the bones that form a joint. It helps stabilize your joint and reduce pain.
After wrist fusion, you aren’t able to move your joint at all. But with wrist arthroplasty, you can still move your joint after surgery. Fusions generally provide excellent lifelong pain relief, without any restriction on lifting or grasping, or impact on types of activities (like the use of a hammer, power tools, or a tennis racquet).
Wrist replacement is another option used to treat wrist pain from arthritis after all other treatments have failed. First-line, nonsurgical treatments usually include:
The most common conditions that can lead to wrist pain are:
If all other treatment options fail, wrist arthroplasty can help:
Joint replacement is common in various sites of the body. But wrist replacement surgery is performed less frequently than other types of arthroplasty, such as:
Wrist replacement should be performed only by an experienced orthopaedic surgeon, preferably one who subspecializes in hand surgery. Before recommending the procedure, the bone and joint specialist will:
Wrist replacement is performed in a hospital or outpatient surgical center. The procedure usually takes less than two hours.
The surgical team will:
Wrist replacement surgery may be combined with other procedures to correct associated problems in tendons, nerves and thumb or finger joints.
Your healthcare team will review the benefits and risks associated with wrist replacement.
Wrist replacement complications are rare but may include:
Recovery from a wrist replacement usually takes about six to 12 weeks. After the cast is removed, you’ll likely wear a splint.
Your healthcare team will encourage you to do exercises to strengthen your wrist. Although it may hurt at first, movement should become less painful over time. The surgeon may also recommend physical or occupational therapy to help you recover.
Some strategies may help you recover more quickly and safely at home. They also will help your new joint last longer.
A prosthetic joint lasts an average of 10 to 15 years.
Call your surgeon if you notice any signs of infection, including:
Also, notify your healthcare team if you eventually experience signs that the implanted joint is failing, such as:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
If injury or arthritis causes constant pain in your wrist, an orthopaedic surgeon may recommend wrist replacement. This type of arthroplasty removes a damaged wrist joint and replaces it with an artificial (manmade) joint. The procedure can reduce pain and improve your ability to perform daily tasks.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/16/2021.
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