What is arthroplasty on the lower arm?

Lower arm problems are common. Your lower arms have many small bones, joints, muscles and nerves working together. Without the use of your hand, wrist or elbow joints, life can be difficult. Arthroplasty is one solution.

Arthroplasty is surgery to replace a joint. You may be familiar with knee and hip joint replacements. Doctors do arthroplasty on arthritic joints in hands, wrists and elbows. An artificial joint placed in the hand, wrist or elbow is called a prosthesis. Your surgeon may also resurface the bones for better function.

When do doctors perform arthroplasty in the lower arm? 

Doctors do arthroplasty when traditional pain medications or physical therapy haven't worked to reduce the pain and increase function of your hand, wrist or elbow. Today, the tools and the prostheses for joint replacement surgery in the hand, wrist and elbow are much more advanced. That makes this surgery more common for people who have arthritis. Arthroplasty can replace knuckles and wrist and elbow joints.

A joint wears out over time when you have degenerative arthritis in it. Inflammatory arthritis destroys a joint in your hand, wrist or elbow. In arthroplasty surgery, doctors remove the damaged joint. They replace it with a durable prosthesis. For elbow arthroplasty, the damaged parts of the bones and joints are replaced with a prosthesis, too. It includes a hinge and metal stems that fit inside the hollow parts of your bones. 

What to expect from arthroplasty in the hand, wrist or elbow

Your doctor may do the arthroplasty on an outpatient basis. That means you get to go home the same day you have surgery. You get a local anesthetic for this procedure. That means you don't feel what's going on, but you may not be fully asleep. Arthroplasty for the elbow is a little more complex and requires a short hospital stay. Recovery for arthroplasty for the hand, wrist or elbow takes about four to six weeks.

Common conditions that benefit from arthroplasty

There are several conditions where arthroplasty of the hand, wrist and elbow can be helpful. It may allow you to have a better quality of life. These include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis (degenerative)
  • Post-traumatic arthritis (after an injury)
  • Severe fractures (more likely for elbows)
  • Instability (more likely for elbows when ligaments holding joint together fail)

Arthroplasty works well if you can limit the amount you use your hand, wrist or elbow. However, right after surgery, you likely need to do physical therapy. The exercises help you strengthen the joint and surrounding muscles.

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