Degenerative Hand, Wrist, and Elbow Conditions

When joints in the hands, wrists, and elbows degenerate from age or overuse, you can lose the ability to use the joint.

The orthopaedic surgeons at UT Southwestern Medical Center are experts at evaluating, diagnosing, and treating degenerative conditions in the hand, wrist, and elbow, with the goal of allowing you to resume your activities.

Why Choose UT Southwestern?

At UT Southwestern, our hand surgeons specialize in surgery that repairs the numerous bones, joints, ligaments, and tendons that make up the hand, wrist, and elbow. Our doctors have more than 50 years of combined experience treating degenerative hand, wrist, and elbow conditions and are experts at the surgeries and treatments used to target these conditions.

We offer patients access to the latest technology, including the newest biomaterials for joint replacements and the latest fixation devices for ligament reconstruction.

Our orthopaedic surgeons treat the following hand, wrist, and elbow degenerative conditions:

  • Thumb arthritis (basal joint arthritis)
  • Inflammatory arthritis of the hand, wrist, and elbow
  • Osteomyelitis
  • Osteonecrosis (avascular necrosis)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Dupuytren’s contracture


Symptoms of degenerative hand, wrist, and elbow disease include:

  • Swelling in the joints
  • Joint deformity
  • Pain or tenderness in the joints
  • Limited motion
  • Loss of strength
  • Inability to grasp, pinch, or hold things


To get an accurate diagnosis, our doctors talk with each patient to understand the history of the condition. We’ll conduct a thorough physical exam that may involve moving the affected joints and examining range of motion and severity of pain.

Many times, we’ll order X-rays and computed tomography (CT) scans to help us understand the severity of the disease and to see how much of the bone, joint, ligament, or tendon has deteriorated.


Our orthopaedic surgeons create a comprehensive treatment plan for each patient to account for the patient’s age, activity level, and goals.

Nonurgent conditions are initially treated with nonsurgical treatments, including ice, rest, anti-inflammatory medications, splints, or physical therapy.

For some conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and avascular necrosis, there is no cure, so the goal of treatment is to control the symptoms and pain associated with the disease and to prevent further bone and joint damage.

When nonsurgical treatments fail to control the symptoms, our doctors will work with you to determine if surgery is the best course of treatment.

Surgical Treatments

Surgical treatments for degenerative hand, wrist, and elbow conditions include:

  • Elbow arthroscopy – used to relieve pain in the elbow from arthritis. Our surgeons make multiple small incisions in the arm and insert small cameras to direct the tiny surgical instruments. The surgeon removes any loose bodies or degenerative tissue in the joint and may try to smooth out irregular surfaces.
  • Joint replacement – used when the joint surface is worn away completely. The deteriorated joint is replaced with a prosthetic joint or, in certain cases, with the patient’s own body tissue. The goal of joint replacement is to relieve pain and restore function to the joint. While many of the joints in the hand and wrist can be replaced, it takes an experienced surgeon to do this surgery; our doctors have the skills needed to perform joint replacement surgery and achieve positive outcomes.
  • Complex bone reconstruction – performed when the bones have deteriorated, as with osteomyelitis or osteonecrosis. This is often done as a microsurgery.
  • Acute tendon repair or reconstruction – used when there is chronic ligament damage and the joint needs to be stabilized. Our surgeons sew the tendons or nerves end-to-end using high-powered operative microscopes
  • Joint fusion – used when joint replacement is not an option. Our doctors will surgically fuse the joint to stabilize or realign it. While this offers pain relief, it also prevents the joint from moving.

Following surgery, patients meet with a physical therapist to undergo rehabilitation aimed at helping them regain movement and strength in the hand, wrist, or elbow.

Request an Appointment

To schedule an appointment with a sports medicine specialist at UT Southwestern or to learn more about our services, please fill out the Appointment Request form or call 214-645-8300.

Doctors Specializing in Degenerative Conditions