Arthroscopic Wrist Surgery

What is the normal anatomy of the wrist?

Your wrist is a complex joint made up of eight small bones called carpal bones. These bones are supported by connecting ligaments. Various conditions can affect your wrist joint, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, osteoarthritis and others.

What is arthroscopic wrist surgery?

Wrist arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure performed to view, diagnose and treat problems of your wrist joint.

What are the indications for arthroscopic wrist surgery?

Wrist arthroscopy may be necessary to help in diagnosing:

  • Stiffness
  • Unexplained pain
  • Swelling
  • Giving way or popping of the joint

Wrist arthroscopy is also used to treat conditions such as:

  • Arthritis
  • Chronic wrist pain
  • Wrist fractures
  • Ligament tears
  • Ganglion cysts
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome

How is the surgical procedure performed?

Wrist arthroscopy is usually performed under regional anaesthesia. You will be awake but will feel no sensation in your hand and arm during your procedure. You may be given a sedative to keep you relaxed.

Your doctor will make one or two small half-inch incisions on the back of your wrist. The portals are placed in specific locations on the wrist, depending on the areas that need to be visualised. The arthroscope and special surgical instruments are inserted into your wrist through these portals. The arthroscope is a thin tube with a camera, lens and light source. Your doctor will be guided by the images relayed from the arthroscope onto a video monitor throughout your procedure. Your doctor will perform any necessary repairs depending on your particular problem.

After the procedure, the portals are closed with small stitches and a dressing is applied. You may be instructed to wear a splint for a short time after the procedure.

What are the steps recommended during postoperative care?

The steps recommended during your postoperative care include:

  • Keep your hand elevated above the level of your heart for the first 2 to 3 days after your procedure.
  • Keep your bandage clean, dry and intact.
  • You may apply ice over the operated area to reduce swelling and discomfort.
  • You will be instructed on special exercises to regain strength and mobility of your wrist.
  • You will be prescribed pain medications to relieve any pain.

What are the advantages of arthroscopic wrist surgery?

Wrist arthroscopy allows your surgeon to visualise, diagnose, and treat problems affecting your wrist joint. It is a minimally invasive surgery that avoids the need for a large skin incision and helps in speedy recovery.

Wrist Joint Replacement

Wrist joint replacement surgery, also referred to as total wrist arthroplasty, involves replacement of a severe arthritic wrist joint with an artificial joint made of metal and plastic components. It relieves pain and restores function when conservative treatment fails to provide relief.

Disease overview and Symptoms

The wrist is a complex joint made up of 8 carpal bones aligned in two rows with four bones present in each row. The carpal bones are further connected to 5 metacarpal bones that form the palm of the hand. Each small bone forms a joint with the bone next to it. Thus, the wrist joint is made up of many small joints. The two bones of the forearm, radius and ulna also form a joint with the first row of carpals.

The ends of all these bones are covered with a white, shiny material called articular cartilage. Articular cartilage is smooth and has a rubbery consistency. It allows the bones in a joint to move smoothly against each other. Injury, infection, and diseases such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can damage or wear out the articular cartilage. This may cause the wrist bones to rub against each other producing pain, stiffness and swelling of the wrist.


Your doctor diagnoses arthritis of the wrist joint after reviewing your medical history, performing a physical examination, and obtaining X-rays. Additionally, blood tests may also be ordered to confirm the presence of rheumatoid arthritis.

Conservative Treatment

Early treatment is non-surgical and includes:

  • Avoiding activities that may aggravate the symptoms,
  • Immobilization of the affected wrist in a splint,
  • Using NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory drugs),
  • Steroid injections into the wrist joint and
  • Performing specific wrist exercises.

Surgical Procedure

If non-surgical treatments are ineffective in relieving symptoms, wrist replacement surgery may be considered.

The surgery is performed under general or regional anaesthesia.

  • An incision is made over the back of the wrist.
  • The tendons are moved away to expose the wrist joint.
  • Care is taken while moving the nerves to prevent any nerve damage.
  • The damaged joint surfaces of the arm bones are removed with a surgical saw.
  • The first row of carpal bones may also be removed.
  • The radius bone is hollowed out and a radial component of the prosthesis is fixed inside it with bone cement.
  • Depending upon the design of the prosthesis, the carpal component is placed in the remaining row of carpal bones or into the third metacarpal bone of the hand.
  • The carpal bones may also be linked or fused together to better fix the carpal component.
  • A plastic spacer is then fitted between the metal components.
  • With the new prosthesis in place the wrist joint is tested through its range of motion and is irrigated with a sterile saline solution.
  • The joint capsule is then sutured together.
  • The muscles and tendons are repaired and put back in place.
  • The incision is closed, and the wrist is bandaged with a sterile dressing.
  • Finally, a cast is applied.

After Wrist Replacement Surgery

Your arm will be in a cast for the first few weeks after the surgery and you will be prescribed medications to control any pain. Elevating the wrist on a pillow above heart level while sleeping or sitting will help reduce swelling and discomfort. Once the cast is removed, a splint is put for another few weeks. Physical therapy will also be advised to restore movement to the wrist joint.

Risks and Complications

Although wrist replacement surgery is considered safe, there are certain risks and complications associated with any type of surgical procedure. Some of the risks and complications include infection, fracture of the wrist bone, dislocation of the wrist, damage to the nerves or blood vessels, blood clots (deep vein thrombosis), loosening of the implants, wear and tear of the implant, and failure to relieve pain.