There are several types of arthritis but rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most common. The inflammation of the joints with this disease causes pain, immobility, and can interfere with your daily activities. There are medications that can help reduce inflammation and slow the progression of the disease down. However, once joint damage is severe, these drugs will no longer be effective. Surgery may be the best option at this time.
The Right Timing for Rheumatoid Arthritis Surgery
Surgery is the final option once medications are no longer able to provide you comfort and pain relief. It’s important to speak with a rheumatologist who specializes in treating RA. You may also need to consult with an orthopedic surgeon to evaluate if surgery will help you. While surgery can bring pain relief and improve mobility, it may not be the best option for everyone.
There are complications with surgery, some of which can be serious. It is better to try medications and therapy first before resorting to surgical procedures. The trouble with waiting too long, however, is that damage can become so severe that even surgery cannot repair the joints. If you have been diagnosed with RA, it is important to stay in contact with your doctor. Your physician/ orthopedic can best advise when it may be time for surgery.
Total Joint Replacement
The timing of total joint replacement surgery is critical. RA most commonly affects your knees and hips and these are the joints that often require surgery. Total joint replacement involves complete removal of the affected joint which is then replaced with an artificial joint. Replacement joints can last for up to 20 years depending on your fitness level, activity, weight, and age. It is possible that you may need another replacement surgery but this can be more difficult and may not have as positive results.
Knee Replacement: A stiff knee can prevent you from performing even the most simple activities. If medications and other treatment options have not brought you knee pain relief then knee replacement surgery could be an option. This can per performed as a minimally invasive procedure which means your recovery time is faster. The smaller incision also means there will bless scar tissue, which will allow you to have a less restricted movement once you recover.
Hip Replacement: This surgery will replace your hip with an artificial joint. Which should make it easier for you to walk. Either a small incision and or a large incision can be used. However, the choice will be made by your doctor depending on the damage. Smaller incisions mean there is less blood, less scar tissue, less hip pain following surgery, and quicker healing.
Additional Surgical Procedures for Rheumatoid Arthritis
The knees and hips are not the only joints impacted by RA and as such, there are other surgeries that can be done to relieve your joint pain.
- Carpal tunnel release can ease the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome in your wrist and arm.
- A synovectomy removes the synovium (joint lining) of an affected joint so it doesn’t damage the bone or cartilage. The lining can grow back which means you may need this procedure more than once.
- Arthrodesis can reduce pain in the fingers, wrists, ankles, or spine by fusing bones or joints.
- Arthroscopy is done on larger joints and using a lighted tube removes pieces of floating bone or cartilage that are impairing movement.
Preparing for Surgery
Before your surgery, your doctor will likely stop some medications temporarily such as blood thinners or aspirin. Other medications may also be stopped that can increase your risk of infection. You should also tell your doctor what supplements you are taking as they may need to be limited. It is a good idea before knee and hip surgeries to practice using crutches so you are better able to use them for recovery.