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Signs You May Need A Wrist Replacement — And What It Involves

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When you hear of someone having a joint replacement, it is usually their knee, hip, or ankle that gets replaced. However, other joints in the body can be replaced with artificial ones, including your wrist. If you have severe wrist arthritis, it's helpful to know the basics about wrist replacement so you can determine whether it's a good option for you. Here are some signs that you may need wrist replacement, along with an overview of the procedure.

Signs You May Need a Wrist Replacement

You are not able to use your wrist.

Sometimes wrist arthritis eventually becomes severe enough that it keeps you from using your wrist. You may find yourself just letting that hand sit there, while you use the other all of the time. You may barely be able to write, type, or use silverware, and your quality of life can decreased as a result.

Pain relievers aren't giving you much relief anymore.

NSAID pain relievers can usually keep the pain and inflammation of mild to moderate wrist arthritis under control. But if you are taking these medications and are barely getting relief from them anymore, that means your arthritis has progressed to the point that a joint replacement may be your best choice for long-term relief.

​Cortisone injections haven't helped.

Most orthopedic doctors will recommend trying cortisone injections before you opt for wrist replacement surgery. Sometimes, these steroids will reduce the inflammation and pain enough for you to regain basic use of your wrist. The effects typically last about three months. If you're still in a lot of pain or unable to use your wrist after a cortisone injection, then it's time for a wrist replacement.

What Wrist Replacement Involves

Wrist replacement surgery can sometimes be performed in an orthopedic surgery center, rather than a hospital. However, if you have any other health problems that make it more risky for you to undergo anesthesia, your surgeon will likely want to perform the procedure in a hospital setting.

Your surgeon will generally make an incision the long way down your forearm, ending in the palm of your hand. The damaged wrist bones and the end of your radius and ulna will be removed. Then, you doctor will insert a false joint, made from titanium and silicone, in their place. 

The incision will be stitched closed. For about two months, you will wear a splint. Throughout this time, you will begin physical therapy to re-strengthen your wrist. You can use pain relievers and ice to ease your discomfort. Most discomfort will pass within a few weeks.

If you think you may need a wrist replacement, make an appointment with an orthopedist for an evaluation.