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Total Wrist Replacement: From Consultation to Recovery

Total wrist replacement is a surgical procedure that involves replacing a damaged wrist joint with an artificial joint. This procedure is typically recommended for individuals who have severe wrist arthritis or other conditions that cause chronic pain and limited mobility in the wrist. From the initial consultation to the recovery process, total wrist replacement requires careful planning, skilled surgical techniques, and diligent post-operative care. In this article, we will explore the various stages of total wrist replacement, providing valuable insights and research-based information to help patients understand what to expect throughout the entire process.

1. Consultation and Evaluation

The first step in the total wrist replacement process is the initial consultation with an orthopedic surgeon. During this appointment, the surgeon will evaluate the patient’s medical history, perform a physical examination, and order diagnostic tests such as X-rays or MRI scans to assess the extent of wrist damage. The surgeon will also discuss the patient’s symptoms, pain levels, and functional limitations to determine if total wrist replacement is the most appropriate treatment option.

During the consultation, it is crucial for patients to ask questions and express any concerns they may have. Some important topics to discuss with the surgeon include:

  • The success rate and potential risks of total wrist replacement
  • Alternative treatment options, such as wrist fusion
  • Expected recovery time and rehabilitation process
  • Long-term outcomes and potential limitations after surgery

By having a thorough discussion with the surgeon, patients can make an informed decision about whether to proceed with total wrist replacement and gain a realistic understanding of the potential benefits and risks.

2. Preparing for Surgery

Once the decision to undergo total wrist replacement is made, patients will need to prepare for the surgical procedure. This preparation involves several important steps:

  1. Medical Clearance: Patients may need to undergo additional medical tests or consultations with other specialists to ensure they are in good overall health and can safely undergo surgery.
  2. Medication Adjustments: The surgeon will provide instructions on which medications to stop or adjust prior to surgery, particularly blood-thinning medications that can increase the risk of bleeding during the procedure.
  3. Smoking Cessation: Smoking can impair the healing process and increase the risk of complications. Patients who smoke will be advised to quit smoking before surgery.
  4. Physical Preparation: Engaging in regular exercise and physical therapy can help strengthen the surrounding muscles and improve overall fitness, which can aid in the recovery process.
  5. Pre-operative Instructions: The surgeon will provide specific instructions regarding fasting before surgery, showering with antibacterial soap, and any other necessary preparations.

Following these pre-operative steps is crucial to ensure a smooth and successful total wrist replacement surgery.

3. The Surgical Procedure

The total wrist replacement surgery is typically performed under general anesthesia, meaning the patient will be asleep throughout the procedure. The surgeon will make an incision on the back of the wrist to access the damaged joint. The specific surgical technique may vary depending on the type of wrist replacement implant used.

During the surgery, the surgeon will:

  • Remove the damaged joint surfaces of the wrist
  • Prepare the remaining bone surfaces to receive the artificial joint components
  • Implant the artificial joint components, which may include a metal stem inserted into the radius bone, a metal cap for the carpal bones, and a plastic spacer to allow smooth movement
  • Close the incision with sutures or staples

The duration of the surgery can vary depending on the complexity of the case, but it typically takes around two to three hours.

4. Post-operative Care and Rehabilitation

After the surgery, patients will be closely monitored in the hospital for a few days to ensure proper pain management and to watch for any signs of complications. The surgeon may prescribe pain medications and antibiotics to prevent infection.

Once discharged from the hospital, patients will need to follow a comprehensive rehabilitation program to regain strength, flexibility, and function in the wrist. This program may include:

  • Physical therapy exercises to improve range of motion and strengthen the wrist muscles
  • Gradual increase in activities of daily living, such as writing, typing, and gripping objects
  • Regular follow-up appointments with the surgeon to monitor progress and address any concerns

Recovery time can vary depending on the individual and the extent of the surgery, but most patients can expect to resume normal activities within three to six months after total wrist replacement.

5. Long-term Outcomes and Considerations

Total wrist replacement can provide significant pain relief and improved wrist function for individuals with severe wrist arthritis or other debilitating conditions. However, it is important to consider the long-term outcomes and potential limitations of the procedure.

Some key points to keep in mind include:

  • Total wrist replacement implants have a lifespan, typically ranging from 10 to 15 years. Revision surgery may be necessary in the future to replace the worn-out components.
  • High-impact activities or heavy lifting may need to be avoided to prevent excessive stress on the artificial joint.
  • Individuals with certain medical conditions, such as severe osteoporosis or active infections, may not be suitable candidates for total wrist replacement.
  • Regular follow-up appointments with the surgeon are essential to monitor the long-term health of the wrist joint and address any potential complications.

By understanding these long-term considerations and following the recommended post-operative care, patients can maximize the benefits of total wrist replacement and enjoy improved wrist function for many years.


Total wrist replacement is a complex surgical procedure that can significantly improve the quality of life for individuals with severe wrist arthritis or other debilitating conditions. From the initial consultation to the recovery process, each stage of total wrist replacement requires careful planning, skilled surgical techniques, and diligent post-operative care. By following the guidance of experienced orthopedic surgeons and committing to a comprehensive rehabilitation program, patients can achieve successful outcomes and regain pain-free wrist function. It is important for individuals considering total wrist replacement to have realistic expectations and understand the potential risks and limitations associated with the procedure. With proper care and attention, total wrist replacement can provide long-lasting relief and restore mobility to the wrist joint.

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