What is a finger joint fusion?

Arthritis is a condition where the tissue between your joints that lets your hand move fluidly starts to get inflamed and breaks down. The hands may start to warp or bend at painful angles and make it hard to function normally. Arthritis can occur between any joints, but most often occurs in the hands.

Finger joint fusion is used for patients who haven’t had pain relief with other treatment methods for rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis.

One possible alternative to a finger joint fusion is a finger joint replacement, which may preserve some of the finger’s mobility. A finger joint replacement puts a new, artificial joint into the finger where the old joint used to be. Finger joint replacements are not as common as hip or knee replacements because they don’t work quite as well, but they are an alternative you can talk about with your doctor.

How do I prepare?

Before the surgery, you will have a chance to ask your doctor, surgeon, and other members of your medical team any questions you may have. The surgeon will do a physical exam and ask you questions about allergies and other medical conditions you might have. They might also do imaging tests, like x-rays, to take pictures of the hand that they can use during the surgery.

You should arrange to have a friend or family member stay at the hospital with you during the procedure and help you get home safely. You might not be able to drive after the surgery.

What are the risks and/or side effects?

The main side effect of finger joint fusion is that you will lose some or all of the flexibility in your finger joint after it is fused.

Finger joint fusion is a fairly safe procedure, but all surgery comes with risks. These can include:

  • The cut the surgeon makes to get to the finger joint can get infected
  • You might have a bad reaction to general anesthesia or other medicines used during the surgery
  • Your joint might not fuse together all the way after the procedure, which may require more surgery to repair.

What are the benefits?

Finger joint fusion surgery can help relieve pain in the joints of the hand that is caused by arthritis, especially pain that doesn’t get better with other treatments.

How is it done or administered?

An anesthesiologist will give you a local anesthetic, a neve block to numb your arm, or general anesthetic to put you to sleep. (If you have a nerve block, your arm might be numb for up to two days after the surgery, and you might not be able to move it during that time.)

The surgeon makes a cut in the skin and removes the damaged joint from the finger. Then they insert a rod made of plastic or metal to hold the finger bones together. 

Once the procedure is complete, you’ll be taken to a room to recover. The doctor will give you and your family member or friend the information you need to care for your hand at home. This includes giving you prescriptions and making sure you feel well enough to leave.

Your hand may be put into a cast to keep it from moving while the finger heals. You may also get a sling to help your arm stay in place while the nerve block wears off.

What are follow-up requirements and options?

Your doctor or surgeon might schedule a follow-up visit to remove stitches, wires, or a cast at the site of the surgery, check to make sure the procedure helped, and look for infections or other complications.

In the days following the procedure, make sure to take the pain medicine you were prescribed. Move the other fingers on your hand to keep them from getting stiff, but don’t lift anything heavier than a glass of water until the joint has finished healing and is fused completely.

You may need occupational therapy can help with your hand’s function after surgery.

When will I know the results?

The pain relief from a finger joint fusion can occur quickly, though the surgery itself may take a few weeks to heal. During follow-up visits, your doctor will take x-rays of the joint and examine your hand to make sure the procedure worked like it was supposed to.