The human wrist is a very unique joint, as it is both one of the most flexible as well as one of the strongest joints in the body. It must be flexible to allow a wide range of motion for the hand, and very stable to allow the hand to pick up and manipulate heavy objects. The joints, bones, tendons, and ligaments that make up the wrist depend on cartilage to cushion them and prevent serious injuries. When wrist cartilage becomes damaged due to a fall, an awkward twist, repetitive activity, or arthritis, the entire joint and hand tend to be affected. Torn or weakened cartilage can cause long-term discomfort or even disability if not treated right away.
Wrist cartilage problems frequently arise when people suffer direct injuries to their wrists from falls or sudden twists. When too much pressure and strain are put on the wrist, as commonly occurs when a person tries to catch himself or herself during a fall, the cartilage surrounding the wrist joints can stretch and tear. The result is often inflammation, swelling, intense local pain, and limited motion in the hand.
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An especially debilitating problem involves tearing of the triangular fibrocartilage (TFC), which is a disc-shaped area of cartilage that cushion the ulna, the radius, and several smaller bones and ligaments in the wrist. If the TFC and surrounding ligaments tear due to an injury, an individual can expect to experience chronic pain, even when not moving the hand. Motion is very limited, swelling and irritation may extend downwards to the fingers and up the arm, and a clicking noise may be heard when trying to bend the wrist.
Conditions involving wrist cartilage can also occur from repetitive overuse of the joint. A person whose job involves swinging a hammer, for example, may experience irritation and inflammation in his or her wrist. Overuse does not usually result in tearing of cartilage tissue, but the cartilage can become thinner, leading to an audible click when moving the hand, weakness in the hand and grip, and local swelling.
Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis can cause cartilage tissue to break down in the wrist and other joints in the body. Arthritis in the wrist can result in a significant loss of cartilage and excess strain on the joints. Many people with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis experience joint pain and stiffness, swelling, and weakness. Without treatment, arthritis can leave wrist joints deformed and dysfunctional.
Treatments for wrist cartilage problems depend on the cause. Doctors can examine wrists by taking radiographs or X-rays and conducting physical examinations. Forms of arthritis can often be treated by taking prescription anti-inflammatory drugs and analgesics, though surgery may be required in advanced cases. Wrist strains may be able to heal on their own in two to four weeks with sufficient rest and applying ice packs. Torn cartilage often requires surgery and weeks of rehabilitative therapy to thoroughly heal.