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Hand Arthritis: When Do I Need Surgery?

Oct. 2, 2017 at midnight

There's pain. And then there is arthritic pain -- a constant ache that often intensifies in cooler weather, a pain that may cause swelling, particularly after prolonged use of an affected limb.

Arthritis -- literally meaning 'painful inflammation and stiffness in the joints' -- can effect any joint in the body, including those between the 29 bones of the wrist, fingers, and hand.

1. Although arthritis is a chronic condition that can be severely debilitating, there are steps you and your doctor can take to reduce the condition's impact on your quality of life. One of these may be surgery.

Learning About Surgery

No doubt, undergoing surgery is a major decision. Before opting for an invasive procedure, it's important to learn all you can about the procedure, as well as understand what alternatives are available.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, surgery to repair badly affected hands is rare. In 2009, fewer than 1,000 finger surgeries took place. By comparison, there were nearly one million hip and knee replacements during the same time. One reason for this discrepancy pertains to the operation's effectiveness. Finger surgery has a high complication rate, with many patients sacrificing mobility in order to obtain pain relief.

That said, there are many potential benefits of having surgery for arthritis. Some of these include:

  • Lessened pain, especially when splints, heat and cold applications, exercise, and medication haven't been successful;
  • Improved movement and use of the joint;
  • Improved appearance in the deformed joints, notably with hand surgery.

Understanding When the Time is Right

After learning about the potential benefits and risks associated with hand surgery, it's helpful to understand who is a prime candidate for the treatment. As reported by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, a doctor will examine the hand and use x-rays to confirm arthritis. Specialized procedures, such as an MRI, are rarely needed. A bone scan may help determine projected outcomes in the early stages of the condition.

If there is any chance that a joint can be preserved or reconstructed, reconstructive surgery may be the best option. If the damage has progressed to such an extent that the surfaces no longer function, a joint replacement or fusion may be necessary.

To determine if you're a good candidate for surgery, ask yourself:

  • Have other treatment options failed to provide relief of arthritic symptoms?
  • Does the pain keep you awake at night?
  • Do you have advanced arthritis?

If the answer is "yes" to any of these questions, it may be time to discuss surgery.

Your orthopedic surgeon can discuss the options with you that will provide the most satisfactory results for your particular situation. Remember too that a successful outcome is often dependent on following a strict recovery regimen. To learn more about arthritis and the treatment options, please contact us.


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