Could Surgery Give You More Freedom From Arthritis?

Find out your options

Lori Murray
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The answer may be yes if you’ve tried the standard treatments and still have pain and mobility problems, says Charles Melone Jr., MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. First: Let your healthcare provider know if you think you’re ready for surgery. Then ask for a referral to an orthopedic surgeon to discuss options such as . . .

What it is: A procedure where a tool called an arthroscope—a thin tube containing a fiber-optic camera—is inserted through a small incision near the joint. This allows doctors to see inside the joint to diagnose and treat problems like bone spurs and torn cartilage, tendons or ligaments.

Why it can help: Arthroscopy is helpful when other imaging tests haven’t led to a diagnosis. If you need arthroscopic surgery, the recovery time is relatively short.

What to consider: A study in New England Journal of Medicine found that arthroscopy doesn’t seem to relieve pain due to knee OA, but it may help those who have large pieces of debris or torn cartilage in a joint.

Joint replacement
What it is: This involves removing all or part of a damaged joint and replacing it with artificial components.

Why it can help: If you’ve tried nonsurgical treatments and your joint pain is still running the show—it’s interfering with sleep or daily activities and affecting your quality of life—this option can relieve pain and improve range of motion. 

What to consider: One way to increase your odds of a successful surgery: Sign up for “pre-hab”—exercise therapy done before the operation to increase your stamina, muscle strength and flexibility.


Joint fusion
What it is: For this operation (known as arthrodesis), the surgeon removes a joint and fuses the bones into one immobile (unbendable) unit, but places it into a functional position. The most commonly fused joints are the ankles and wrists, and joints of the thumb, fingers and toes.

Why it can help: Fusion is an option if your bones aren’t strong enough to support an artificial joint. The fused bone stabilizes the area so it can bear more weight.

What to consider: This option is effective for pain relief, but you’ll lose range of motion because you won’t be able to bend the area.   

Nervous about surgery? Do this first!
Ask your surgeon to put you in touch with a patient who’s already had the procedure and had the same problems as you, says Dr. Melone. “I like to do that for my patients because it’s often more helpful than when a doctor tells them about surgery, since it’s coming from someone who’s been through it and can tell them what to expect and what the person did to make it successful.”

January 2013