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Types of surgery to treat arthritis

A doctor can help you decide if surgery is a good option for relieving your arthritis symptoms.

Some people with arthritis need surgery to relieve symptoms such as joint pain and difficulty moving.

Here are some surgeries used to treat arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).

Arthrodesis, or fusion, involves fusing together the two bones that form a joint. When the bones are joined together in this way, they lose their flexibility. But fused joints can bear weight better, are more stable and are no longer painful.

Arthrodesis is most often performed on the ankles, wrists, fingers and thumbs.

Arthroscopy involves repairing the joint through small cuts in the skin. The surgeon uses an arthroscope (a thin tube with a light at the end) to view the inside of the damaged joint.

Then, using tiny instruments, the surgeon can correct what may be causing the joint pain by trimming damaged cartilage, repairing torn cartilage, or removing loose particles or debris from the joint.

Arthroscopy is usually used to treat knees, hips and shoulders.  

Joint replacement involves replacing the damaged bone or tissue with an artificial joint. The new joint may be metal, ceramic and/or plastic. Depending on the problem, the entire joint—or just a part of it—may be replaced.

Joint replacement surgery has been used for many years with excellent results, especially for knees and hips, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Other joints can also be replaced, including shoulders, elbows and knuckles.

Over time, the artificial joint can loosen or wear out, so another surgery may be required. But new joints typically last 15 years or longer.

Osteotomy involves cutting and reshaping or repositioning bones to improve their alignment.

Often used on knee joints, this surgery can help shift weight-bearing stress from a damaged section of the joint to a healthier section. It can delay the need for a joint replacement by 10 to 15 years.  

Synovectomy involves removing the diseased lining of the joint—the synovium—to help relieve pain and swelling. Depending on the size of the joint, the surgery can be done either through a standard incision (open surgery) or through one or more smaller incisions with tiny instruments.

Synovectomy can be used to help treat rheumatoid arthritis and can help prevent or slow down destruction of the joints. But the synovium tends to grow back over several years and can cause repeated problems, the Arthritis Foundation says.

Your doctor can help you decide if surgery might help you and, if so, what type of surgery would be best.

Reviewed 8/12/2021

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