The hand and wrist have multiple small joints that work together to produce motion, including the fine motion needed to thread a needle or tie a shoelace. When the joints are affected by arthritis, activities of daily living can be difficult. Arthritis can occur in many areas of the hand and wrist and can have more than one cause. Over time, if the arthritis is not treated, the bones that make up the joint can lose their normal shape. This causes more pain and further limits motion.
Arthritis is a condition that irritates or destroys a joint. Although there are several types of arthritis, the one that most often affects the joint at the base of the thumb (the basal joint) is osteoarthritis (degenerative or “wear-and-tear” arthritis).
Arthritis involves inflammation of one or more of your joints. Pain and stiffness are common symptoms of arthritis, and when these occur in your wrist, simple daily activities can become more difficult.
There are many types of arthritis, and most of these can affect the wrist. Although the severity of symptoms related to arthritis can vary, most arthritis-related diseases are chronic. This means that they are long-lasting—even permanent—and can eventually cause serious joint damage.
Your wrist is a complex joint—it is actually made up of multiple small joints. When healthy, the bones glide easily over each other during movement, protected by smooth cartilage that coats the joint surfaces. Arthritis damages this cartilage. As the disease progresses, there is a gradual loss of cartilage. Without a smooth joint surface, the bones rub against each other, leading to joint damage that cannot be repaired.
Although there is no cure for arthritis today, there are many treatment options available to help relieve your symptoms. Some options may also slow the progression of joint damage. With proper treatment, many people are able to manage their symptoms and stay active.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition that causes pain, numbness, and tingling in the hand and arm. The condition occurs when one of the major nerves to the hand — the median nerve — is squeezed or compressed as it travels through the wrist.
In most patients, carpal tunnel syndrome gets worse over time, so early diagnosis and treatment are important. Early on, symptoms can often be relieved with simple measures like wearing a wrist splint or avoiding certain activities.
If pressure on the median nerve continues, however, it can lead to nerve damage and worsening symptoms. To prevent permanent damage, surgery to take pressure off the median nerve may be recommended for some patients.
Ganglion cysts are the most common mass or lump in the hand. They are not cancerous and, in most cases, are harmless. They occur in various locations, but most frequently develop on the back of the wrist.
These fluid-filled cysts can quickly appear, disappear, and change size. Many ganglion cysts do not require treatment. However, if the cyst is painful, interferes with function, or has an unacceptable appearance, there are several treatment options available.
Ulnar tunnel syndrome occurs when the ulnar nerve is compressed at the wrist. The ulnar nerve is one of the three main nerves that provide feeling and function to the hand. It travels from your neck down into your hand, and can be constricted in several places along the way.
When pressure on the nerve occurs at the wrist, it causes numbness and tingling in the little finger and along the outside of the ring finger. In addition, ulnar tunnel syndrome can sometimes cause weakness of hand pinch and grip.