Contributor: William Seitz, MD, orthopaedic surgeon
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Arthritis of the shoulder, elbow and wrist can leave you in pain and feeling weak. It also can create a substantial loss of mobility and function. The good news is that there are some very effective techniques to addressing this problem, even in severe cases.
Struggling with day-to-day function
People who experience arthritis of these upper extremities often have trouble with everyday tasks, such as eating, getting dressed and grooming themselves.
In the past, surgeons had limited ways to improve these patients’ frustrations. Often, their only option was to fuse the joint area. This reduces pain but it also completely impairs people’s movement. However, today, new technology and techniques are available for both biological and artificial joint replacement.
Here is a breakdown of newer, innovative ways doctors can address arthritis in the upper extremities:
Shoulder: Instead of trying to fit a patient into a pre-existing implant, shoulder replacements are now more adaptive. Made up of several smaller pieces, modular implants are inserted with minimally invasive surgery on both sides of the joint. This allows the implants to exactly replicate the patient’s anatomy.
For those who want to conserve more of their own natural bone, such as younger patients or those with the end-stage arthritis or massive rotator cuff disease, conservative technology has been developed. Joint resurfacing can be used in these cases, as it removes less bone.
Elbow: Arthritis patients who are unable to bring their hand up to their mouth find this to be a major setback. With new technology, doctors can reduce arthritic pain by using a semi-constrained elbow joint replacement. This is designed to preserve more of the patient’s own joint.
When trauma and/or arthritis has led to partial wear-down of the elbow joint, customized replacements have been extremely successful in returning stability and forearm rotation to patients while also reducing pain.
Wrist: When it comes to arthritis and instability in the wrist, doctors have developed a customized prosthesis to restore a normal range of motion. Technology now allows doctors to resurface the entire wrist, allowing patients to return to near-normal motion while relieving pain.
If you struggle with arthritis in these areas, know that there are good options available to ease the pain and help give you more function.