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Arthritis Surgery for Thumb and Digits

Arthritis is an inflammatory condition of joints. There are several types of arthritis; the most common type is osteoarthritis or wear-and-tear arthritis that affects the joint at the base of the thumb. Thumb arthritis is more common in women than men, and usually occurs after the age of 40 years. Patients who have arthritis of the fingers may have swelling, pain, stiffness, and malformation all of which interfere with use of the hand.

The diagnosis of thumb arthritis is made by examining the thumb. X-rays of the joint may be taken to know the severity of the disease and to determine any bone spurs or calcium deposits.

Nonsurgical treatment methods for relieving pain in an arthritic joint include activity modification, pain medications, and use of splints, and steroid injections. Surgery is usually considered if nonsurgical treatment fails to give relief. There are different surgical procedures that can be used and may include:

Synovectomy: This surgery is usually indicated for early cases of inflammatory arthritis where there is significant swelling (synovitis) that is causing pain or is limiting the range of motion of digits and thumb. Synovectomy is a surgical removal of the inflamed synovium (tissue lining the joint). The procedure may be performed using arthroscopy.

Arthroplasty: In this procedure, Professor Bain removes the affected joint and is replaced with adjacent soft tissues or an artificial implant.

Arthrodesis: A fusion, also called an arthrodesis involves removal of the joints and fusing the bones of the joint together using metal wires or screws. Even though this surgery eliminates all motion at the base of the thumb, the resulting fusion is strong.

This surgery is usually indicated when the joints are severely damaged, when there is limited mobility, damage to the surrounding ligaments and tendons, failed previous surgery, and when heavy manual use is required.

Professor Bain will discuss with you the options and help you decide which type of surgery is the most appropriate for you.

Rehabilitation

Following surgery, a rehabilitation program, often involving a physiotherapist or hand therapist may help you to regain hand strength and movement. You may need to use a post-operative splint for a while after surgery that helps to protect the hand while it heals. You may need to restrict activities for a few months to let the joint reconstruction heal properly.