What Can Cause a Swollen Wrist?

Dan Cavallari

The most common cause of a swollen wrist is an injury resulting from a trauma. Bone fractures, ligament sprains, and muscle strains can all lead to swelling in or around the wrist, though other conditions that do not result from trauma can also lead to a swollen wrist. Arthritis and tendinitis are common conditions that lead to swelling, and that swelling is often accompanied by pain and/or tenderness, as well as reduced mobility in some cases. More serious conditions may include infections that need to be addressed immediately by a doctor.

A swollen wrist may be the result of arthritis.
A swollen wrist may be the result of arthritis.

Arthritis occurs when the cartilage and ligaments in a joint begin to wear out, leading to pain or discomfort. A swollen wrist may not necessarily be an indication of arthritis if the swelling is the only symptom, but if the swelling is accompanied by pain, limited mobility, or weakness, that person should see a doctor to find out if arthritis is the cause. There is no cure for arthritis, unfortunately, so treatment usually involves pain management techniques, including medication, mobility exercises, strength training exercises, rest, icing, and so on.

Typing on a keyboard can be hard on the wrists, possibly aggravating carpal tunnel problems and causing swollen wrists.
Typing on a keyboard can be hard on the wrists, possibly aggravating carpal tunnel problems and causing swollen wrists.

Sometimes a swollen wrist is the result of the development of a ganglion cyst. This is essentially a collection of tissue that can alter normal functioning of the wrist, and while painful, it is not necessarily a serious condition. This type of cyst is often known as a Bible cyst, since an antiquated treatment method included striking the cyst with a heavy book; many poor families could not afford books other than the Bible, so it was used to perform this task. Surgery is possible to remove or irrigate the cyst, though this may not necessarily prevent a recurrence. In many cases, the swelling will subside on its own with rest, and the pain will subside along with it.

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A cross-section of a ganglion cyst, which can cause a swollen wrist.
A cross-section of a ganglion cyst, which can cause a swollen wrist.

Among computer users, carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a common cause of a swollen wrist or wrist discomfort. This condition occurs when the median nerve in the wrist or hand becomes compressed, leading to shooting pains, dull throbbing, or a general ache. Using a computer mouse or typing for long periods of time can lead to CTS, and a sufferer will often need to alter his or her daily habits to prevent the condition from recurring. Anti-inflammatory medication can also lead to some relief, though this is considered a temporary treatment that should be combined with more long-term steps.

Using a mouse can lead to a swollen wrist.
Using a mouse can lead to a swollen wrist.
Sprains are a common cause of a swollen wrist.
Sprains are a common cause of a swollen wrist.
Ganglion cysts tend to appear on the wrists and ankles and can cause pain and swelling in those joints.
Ganglion cysts tend to appear on the wrists and ankles and can cause pain and swelling in those joints.

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