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Finger, Thumb & Wrist Arthroplasty (Joint Replacement)

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Arthritis commonly strikes the fingers, thumb, and wrist joints, usually due to past trauma, fractures, wear-and-tear, or conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Since we use our hands and wrists daily for important activities, this type of joint pain and lack of function can be especially disabling and frustrating.

Joint replacement surgery (arthroplasty) of the fingers, thumb, and wrist joints is much like knee or hip replacement surgery. In the past, this surgery would include a joint fusion (arthrodesis), but fusing the joint eliminated its motion. Recent and significant advances allow our hand and wrist surgeons to remove the painful, worn structures of the joint — bone, cartilage, and synovium — and replace them with new, artificial parts. These manmade parts, called implants, work like normal, healthy parts by allowing the finger and wrist bones to move naturally and comfortably, with little or no pain.

Causes, Conditions & Symptoms of Arthritis

The hand and wrist surgeons at MUSC Health are experts at identifying and designing a treatment plan for knuckle, wrist, and finger joint pain.

Causes of arthritis

Stiff and painful joints are due to a condition called arthritis. Caused by genetic conditions or a result of a fracture or other injury, arthritis can change and damage the structures in the hand. Arthritis from the wear and tear of life is called osteoarthritis. Arthritis can also result from inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout in the hands.

Conditions and symptoms of arthritis

  • A dull or burning joint pain in the fingers, thumb, or wrist that may wake you at night or cause you to have to use your hands in a different way
  • Stiffness and swelling in the hand joints
  • Clicking, cracking or grinding sounds when you bend your fingers, thumb, or wrist
  • Limited flexion or inability to extend the fingers, thumb, or wrist. Your thumb and fingers may not fully open and close
  • Large, deformed, or bent finger joints

Treatment & Recovery For Arthritis

Treatment options at MUSC Health for arthritis joint pain and instability of the hand and wrist include anti-inflammatory medications, heat, therapy, splints/braces, injections, and surgery. Our hand and wrist surgery experts carefully consider important factors, including a patient’s pain level and loss of function, to help determine the need for replacement surgery.

Advances in technique and design: Outpatient surgery with quicker recovery

Remarkable and major recent advancements in both surgical techniques and the design of joint implant devices for the fingers, thumb, and wrist have dramatically improved patient outcomes, reducing pain and restoring function in the hands and wrists. Joint replacements of the finger, thumb, and wrist are now outpatient surgeries, and patients can move their joints within weeks of surgery. Most patients require only a splint after hand or wrist surgery and can begin hand/wrist therapy within seven to ten days.

Finger joint replacement

Using a specialized joint implant made of medical-grade polymer, our surgeons restore the middle joints of the finger (called proximal interphalangeal, or PIP) and the knuckle joints (called metacarpophalangeal or MP) to functional motion. Patients can start moving their fingers within a couple of weeks after surgery with hand therapy treatment.

Thumb joint replacement

The thumb joint is the third most common location in the body for arthritis. Our surgeons reconstruct the joint using a special suture technique combined with a collagen graft implant to add stability. This method does not require removing a metal pin, cast, or tendon graft from the forearm.

Wrist joint replacement

The wrist is complex and has many small bones. Often the wrist has been injured by early trauma that shows up later in life. The wrist can also be injured by wear and tear from arthritis.

Patients with severe rheumatoid arthritis, including disabilities sustained at a young age, also benefit from wrist joint replacement. Remarkable recent advances in wrist implant design mean that even the most athletic patients can return to normal daily activities, including sports such as tennis and golf.

Using the most advanced surgical techniques and implants, our reconstructive approach reduces joint pain and stiffness, improves mobility and function, speeds recovery, and improves your quality of life by allowing you to resume using your hands and wrists comfortably.