What is arthrodesis/fusion surgery of the wrist?

Arthrodesis is a surgical procedure that fuses the bones in a joint so they don't move. This is common for people who have arthritis — a condition where moving joints can be painful.

Arthrodesis in the wrist stabilizes the joint. It fuses the long bone in your forearm to the smaller bones in your wrist. This is a major surgical procedure. Your doctor may only recommend it after trying conservative treatments first. These include rest, pain medication, cortisone injections and physical therapy.

With this surgery, you lose some of the motion in your wrist. However, you can regain your strength and eliminate pain. That makes it ideal for people who don't participate in activities or jobs that require a lot of flexibility.

What to expect from arthrodesis/fusion surgery of the wrist

Doctors do this surgery while you're under general anesthesia. That means you're asleep during the operation. The doctor cleans and sterilizes your skin to prevent germs from entering your body when they cut into the skin.

Your doctor makes an incision along the back of your wrist to access the joint. They use tools to remove tissue from between the bones they're fusing together. They also put any misaligned bones back into their proper positions.

Your doctor might take a piece of bone from your arm. They place it between the spaces in your wrist bones. This is called a bone graft. Then, they put a metal plate in your wrist that reaches from your arm bone to your middle finger. It stays place with metal screws. It also holds the bones in place so they can fuse together. The metal plate and screws stay in your wrist permanently unless they cause pain, irritation or other problems later on.

You have to wear a cast for about six weeks. After that, you wear a splint that you can take off to perform exercises in physical therapy. Therapy helps you learn to use your wrist again with limited mobility.

Common wrist conditions requiring arthrodesis/fusion surgery

Arthrodesis can eliminate the pain from arthritis. Degenerative arthritis or osteoarthritis often happens because of an injury to the joint years earlier. Other conditions that may need arthrodesis are:

  • Wrist deformities
  • Post-infectious conditions
  • Previous wrist reconstruction
  • Damage due to tumors in the wrist joint

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