With arthritis, the cartilage between the bones is missing and the bones rub against each other. The joints may be painful and it may be difficult to grasp items or to move your hand or arm as normal.
In joint replacement, the ends of bones are removed and replaced with metal and plastic implants that act as the bone ends and the cartilage, allowing the joint to move. Finger, wrist, and elbow implants are shaped like hinges. After having a replacement surgery the joint can still move.
With fusion, metal hardware such as pins and plates attach bones to each other. Bone grafts, or sections of other bone, may also be used. The bones that have been attached grow together into one bone, removing the joint. With the bones grown together they cannot move and rub against each other to cause pain.
Finger joint fusion, also called arthrodesis, is a surgical procedure to fuse together the bones of the distal interphalangeal (DIP) joint, the joint closest to the fingernail. The technique is performed to alleviate pain, improve stability and improve deformity in DIP joints severely affected by osteoarthritis.
When is surgery recommended?
If you have finger, wrist, or elbow pain or instability that fails to respond to conservative measures such as rest, over-the-counter-medications, cortisone injections or physical therapy, fusion may be the answer. The procedure is not for everyone, however, so it's important to consult a hand and upper extremity specialist to assess your condition and determine the appropriate treatment.
What is the recovery time?
After surgery you may need to wear a splint, brace, or cast while everything heals. You'll work with a Certified Hand Therapist or physical therapist to do rehabilitation exercises to help you return to normal activities. You will have restrictions on what you can lift and carry and on other activities, to protect your joints.