Finger Joint Replacement for Rheumatoid Arthritis

The arthritis in your hands makes it painful to bend your fingers. Your grasp is weak making it difficult to hold onto anything. Your doctor has recommended a finger joint replacement to relieve your pain and give you back some flexibility in your hand. Here is what makes up this procedure and what to expect when recovering from it.

Arthritis Destroys the Finger Joints

At the ends of the bones in your finger joints are small cartilage pads that cushion the bones as they move against each other. Synovial fluid in the joint acts as a lubricant to make the joint move smoothly. Arthritis damages the cartilage and reduces the effectiveness of the synovial fluid. The result is pain whenever you move your fingers.

The arthritis also causes swelling in the joints which makes them stiff. The worn cartilage allows bone to rub against bone, which can cause bone spurs and other abnormal bone growths. This results in more inflammation in the joints.

Replacement Joints Correct the Damage

The artificial finger joints are made of metal and plastic. Orthopedic surgeons remove the ends of the bones that are rubbing against each other and insert part of the artificial joint in each one. The procedure removes the bone growths and spurs, and the damaged cartilage pad. The artificial joints move smoothly on a hinge between the two bones. After a full recovery, you'll be able to move your fingers with little or no pain.

Recovering from Artificial Joint Replacement

You will wear a splint on your hand for a few days after the surgery to prevent the joint from moving. This allows the muscles and other tissues in your finger to heal properly. You'll have some mild pain in your finger until the inflammation goes down. You'll take pain and anti-inflammatory medication to be comfortable. When your doctor determines that the surgical site is healing correctly, you'll start on physical therapy.

Physical Therapy for Your Hand

The longest phase of your finger joint replacement is the physical therapy. You'll meet with a special hand therapist trained in the movement of the hand. It may take several weeks to gain back the strength and flexibility you need to resume your normal activities.

The first phase of the therapy is to gain back flexibility. Special exercises slowly stretch the finger muscles out. If you have had arthritis for some time, it may take several weeks to coax the muscles out to their normal length and flexibility.

Next, you'll do exercises to gain strength back in your hand. This will help you grasp and hold items, twist off jar lids, and lift heavy objects without your hands slipping off. You'll be given exercises that you can do at home, but you'll continue to meet with the therapist who will evaluate your progress.

Recovery from an artificial joint replacement can take several weeks. If you're hand has been incapacitated with arthritis for some time, it will be worth being patient to regain pain-free movement of your hand and fingers. For more information, talk to an orthopedic surgeon.