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Joint Fusion Surgery (Arthrodesis) to Treat Arthritis

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Bone or joint fusion surgery, called arthrodesis, is performed to relieve arthritis pain in the ankles, wrists, fingers, thumbs, or spine.

In arthrodesis, two bones on each end of a joint are fused, eliminating the joint itself.

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Who Qualifies for Joint Fusion Surgery?

Joint fusion surgery is used in patients whose joints have eroded or have been destroyed by osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or other forms of arthritis.

Joint fusion of the spine is used as a treatment for severe pain caused by a variety of back problems such as a herniated disc or a tumor.

How Is Joint Fusion Surgery Performed?

There are different ways to perform joint fusion surgery:

  • Bone can be taken from another part of the body or from a bone bank and placed in between the two bones being fused to stimulate the fusion. This is called a bone graft.
  • Implants of metal plates, screws, or wires can be used to close the joint and position the bones next to each other. Over time, the body heals the bones to become one. Occasionally, a bone graft is needed to aid healing.

What Are the Benefits of Joint Fusion Surgery?

While a fused joint loses flexibility, it can bear weight better, is more stable, and is no longer painful.

What Are the Risks of Joint Fusion Surgery?

The risks associated with joint fusion surgery vary depending upon the person's age, overall health status, and the type of procedure that is being performed. Risks include:

  • Pain at the site of bone fusion
  • Failure of the fusion and/or breakage of metal implants
  • Nerve injury
  • Infection

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on May 26, 2014
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