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How To Do Wrist Arthrocentesis

By

Alexandra Villa-Forte

, MD, MPH, Cleveland Clinic

Reviewed/Revised Jun 2023
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Topic Resources

Arthrocentesis of the wrist is the process of puncturing the radiocarpal joint with a needle to withdraw synovial fluid.

Indications for Wrist Arthrocentesis

Contraindications to Wrist Arthrocentesis

Absolute contraindications

  • Infection of skin or deeper tissues at the anticipated site of needle insertion

If possible, an alternate, uninfected puncture site should be used. However, acutely inflamed joints may be generally warm, tender, and erythema, thus mimicking extra-articular infection and making it hard to find an uninvolved insertion site. Ultrasonography may be helpful; visualization of a joint effusion by ultrasonography can reinforce the decision to do arthrocentesis despite surrounding erythema. NOTE: If infectious arthritis is strongly suspected, arthrocentesis should be done regardless of erythema or negative ultrasonographic results because joint infection must not be missed.

Relative contraindications

  • Severe bleeding diathesis, which may need to be corrected before arthrocentesis; routine therapeutic anticoagulation is not a contraindication, particularly if infection is suspected

Complications of Wrist Arthrocentesis

Complications are uncommon and include

  • Infection

  • Damage to tendon, nerve, or blood vessels (traumatic tap)

Equipment for Wrist Arthrocentesis

  • Antiseptic solution (eg, chlorhexidine, povidone iodine, isopropyl alcohol), sterile gauze, and gloves

  • Nonsterile underpads

  • Local anesthetic (eg, 1% lidocaine, 25- to 30-gauge needle, 3- to 5-mL syringe)

  • For joint aspiration, a 25-mm (1-inch) 22- to 20-gauge needle and 10-mL syringe

  • Appropriate containers for collection of fluid for laboratory tests (eg, cell count, crystals, cultures)

  • For intra-articular therapeutic injection, a syringe containing a corticosteroid (eg, triamcinolone acetonide 40 mg or methylprednisolone acetate 40 mg) and/or a long-acting anesthetic (eg, 0.25% bupivacaine), a 22-gauge needle, and a hemostat to help switch syringes, if needed

Additional Considerations for Wrist Arthrocentesis

  • Sterile technique is necessary to prevent microbial contamination of both the joint space and the aspirated synovial fluid.

Relevant Anatomy for Wrist Arthrocentesis

  • Needle insertion is just distal to the Lister tubercle (dorsal radial tubercle) and ulnar to the extensor pollicis longus tendon.

  • Neurovascular injury may occur if needle entry is on the radial side of the extensor pollicis longus tendon (ie, in the anatomic snuffbox).

Arthrocentesis of the wrist

Synovial fluid is withdrawn from the radiocarpal joint. To help identify the extensor pollicis longus tendon, the patient should actively extend the wrist and thumb. To puncture the joint, the wrist is flexed and ulnar-deviated about 20 to 30°. Traction is applied to the hand. Needle entry occurs just distal to the Lister tubercle, ulnar to the extensor pollicis longus tendon.

Arthrocentesis of the wrist

Positioning for Wrist Arthrocentesis

Position the patient sitting or supine with the wrist on a bedside table.

Step-by-Step Description of Wrist Arthrocentesis

  • Palpate the dorsal aspect of the wrist to identify the Lister tubercle, which is the bony prominence palpable on the distal dorsal radius. Isolate and identify the extensor pollicis longus tendon by directing the patient to extend the thumb. Needle entry occurs distal to the tubercle and ulnar to the tendon. If desired, mark the insertion site with a skin-marking pen or preferably an indentation (before cleansing the skin).

  • Rest the forearm and hand on an underpad. Prepare the area with a skin-cleansing agent, such as chlorhexidine or povidone iodine, then use an alcohol wipe to remove the agent.

  • Place a wheal of local anesthetic over the needle entry site using a 25- to 30-gauge needle. Then inject more anesthetic along the anticipated trajectory of the arthrocentesis needle (about 0.5 to 1 cm), but do not enter the joint space.

  • Aspirate the joint using a 22- or 20-gauge needle on a 10-mL syringe.

  • Have an assistant apply axial traction, slight flexion (20 to 30°), and ulnar deviation to the hand to facilitate needle entry into the joint space.

  • Insert the needle perpendicular to the skin, just distal to the Lister tubercle and on the ulnar side of the extensor pollicis longus tendon. Direct the needle volarly toward the joint space, and pull back gently on the plunger as you advance. Synovial fluid will enter the syringe when the joint is entered.

  • If the needle hits bone, retract almost to skin surface and then redirect at a different angle.

  • Drain all fluid from the joint.

  • If intra-articular medications (eg, anesthetic, corticosteroid) are to be given, use a hemostat to hold the hub of the needle motionless while removing the synovial fluid-containing syringe and attaching the medication-containing syringe. If the needle has remained in place in the joint space, there will be no resistance to medication injection. Injections into the radiocarpal joint should not exceed 1 mL in volume.

  • After injecting a corticosteroid, move the joint through full range of motion to distribute the medication throughout the joint.

  • Apply an adhesive bandage or sterile dressing.

How to do Arthrocentesis of the Wrist
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Aftercare for Wrist Arthrocentesis

  • Ice, elevation, and oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may help relieve pain.

  • If an intra-articular anesthetic has been given, limited joint activity should be prescribed for 4 to 8 hours.

  • If an intra-articular corticosteroid has been given, the joint should be rested for about 24 to 48 hours.

  • If the patient has increased erythema, pain, and/or swelling > 12 hours after the procedure, the joint should be examined for possible infection.

Warnings and Common Errors for Wrist Arthrocentesis

  • Carefully ensure optimal positioning before joint puncture.

  • Allow adequate time for local anesthesia to take effect before proceeding.

  • To avoid damaging the synovium and articular cartilage, do not advance the needle against resistance and do not move the needle once it has begun draining synovial fluid.

  • If the needle tip must be relocated, first withdraw it almost to the skin surface and then redirect; do not try to change the angle of insertion while a needle is embedded in tissue.

Tips and Tricks for Wrist Arthrocentesis

Consider doing ultrasonography if there is no obvious large effusion.

Note also that warmth, tenderness, and erythema may overlie an acutely inflamed arthritic joint, mimicking extra-articular infection.

  • Joint effusion

  • Circumferential joint pain and capsule tenderness

  • Pain with both gentle, passive motion and with active joint motion

When inspecting fluid, consider the following:

  • The hemarthrosis of a traumatic tap tends to be nonuniformly bloody and tends to clot.

There may be no visible aspirated fluid from small joints. However, the syringe should still be used to express even a trivial drop of fluid through the needle on to a slide for microscopic evaluation. This may be sufficient to document crystal-associated arthritis or increase suspicion for infection.

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Drug Name Select Trade
Betasept, Chlorostat, DYNA-HEX, Hibiclens, Oro Clense , Peridex, Periogard, PerioRx , Perisol
7T Lido, Akten , ALOCANE, ANASTIA, AneCream, Anestacon, Aspercreme with Lidocaine, AsperFlex, Astero , BenGay, Blue Tube, Blue-Emu, CidalEaze, DermacinRx Lidocan III, DermacinRx Lidogel, DermacinRx Lidorex, DERMALID, Dologesic, Ela-Max, GEN7T, Glydo, Gold Bond, LidaFlex, LidaMantle, Lido King Maximum Strength, Lidocan, Lidocare, Lidoderm, LidoDose, LidoDose Pediatric, Lidofore, LidoHeal-90, LIDO-K , LidoLite, Lidomar , Lidomark, LidoPure, LidoReal-30, LidoRx, Lidosense 4 , Lidosense 5, Lidosol, Lidosol-50, LIDO-SORB, Lidotral, Lidovix L, LIDOZION, Lidozo, LMX 4, LMX 4 with Tegaderm, LMX 5, LTA, Lubricaine For Her, Lydexa, Moxicaine, Numbonex, ReadySharp Lidocaine, RectaSmoothe, RectiCare, Salonpas Lidocaine, Senatec, Solarcaine, SUN BURNT PLUS, Tranzarel, Xyliderm, Xylocaine, Xylocaine Dental, Xylocaine in Dextrose, Xylocaine MPF, Xylocaine Topical, Xylocaine Topical Jelly, Xylocaine Topical Solution, Xylocaine Viscous, Zilactin-L, Zingo, Zionodi, ZTlido
Aristocort, Aristocort A, Aristocort Forte, Aristocort HP, Aristo-Pak, Aristospan, Azmacort, Children's Nasacort Allergy 24HR Nasal Spray, Cinalog, Cinolar, Flutex, Hexatrione, Kenalog, Kenalog in Orabase, Kenalog-10, Kenalog-40, Kenalog-80, Nasacort, Nasacort AQ, Oralone, SP Rx 228 , Tac-3 , Triacet , Triamonide , Trianex , Triderm , Triesence, XIPERE, Zilretta
A-Methapred, Depmedalone-40, Depmedalone-80 , Depo-Medrol, Medrol, Medrol Dosepak, Solu-Medrol
Marcaine, Marcaine Spinal, POSIMIR, Sensorcaine, Sensorcaine MPF , Xaracoll
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NOTE: This is the Professional Version. CONSUMERS: View Consumer Version
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