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What do I need to know about arthrodesis?

Arthrodesis is surgery to completely fuse (join) the bones of a joint. This prevents the joint from moving. This surgery may be done to decrease pain caused by arthritis, injuries, or deformed joints. Arthrodesis may be done on large joints such as your elbow, wrist, knee, and ankle. It may also be done on the small joints of your hand or foot.

How do I prepare for arthrodesis?

Your healthcare provider will talk to you about how to prepare for surgery. He may tell you not to eat or drink anything after midnight on the day of your surgery. He will tell you what medicines to take or not take on the day of your surgery. You may be given an antibiotic through your IV to help prevent a bacterial infection. Arrange for someone to drive you home and stay with you for 24 hours after surgery.

What will happen during arthrodesis?

  • You may be given general anesthesia to keep you asleep and free from pain during surgery. You may instead be given local or regional anesthesia to numb the surgery area. With local or regional anesthesia, you may still feel pressure or pushing during surgery, but you should not feel any pain.
  • You may have open surgery or arthroscopic surgery. During open surgery, your healthcare provider will make one or more large incisions over your joint. With arthroscopic surgery, he will make several small incisions. He will insert a scope with a small camera at the end to help him see your joint. He will also insert tools through the small incisions.
  • In both types of surgeries, your healthcare provider will remove damaged cartilage. He will then use pins, plates and screws, rods, or possibly a bone graft to fuse the bones together. He will close the incisions with stitches or staples and cover them with bandages.

What will happen after arthrodesis?

You may need to wear a splint, soft or hard cast, or walking boot to keep your joint stable as it heals. If you had arthrodesis in your knee, ankle, or foot, you will need to keep weight off your joint for up to 12 weeks. Over time you will be allowed to slowly put more weight on your joint. You will need physical therapy after you have recovered from surgery.

What are the risks of arthrodesis?

  • You may bleed more than expected or get an infection. Nerves may be damaged during surgery. You may have numbness or develop a hematoma. A hematoma is a collection of blood that may form in a muscle or in the tissues just under the skin. If you have arthroscopic surgery, your doctor may need to change to an open surgery if there are any unexpected problems.
  • The bones in your joint may not fuse as expected and the surgery may need to be done again. If you had knee arthrodesis, the length of your leg may change. You may need another surgery to make the lengths of your legs the same. The pins, plates, screws, or rods used to fuse your joints may break if you put weight on your joint too soon. You may get a blood clot in your arm or leg. This may become life-threatening.

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