Harvard Women's Health Watch

Artificial joints for the hand and wrist

Like knee or hip replacement, a new hand or wrist joint can help you get back into the action.

Chances are, you know someone who has a new knee or hip joint. Maybe you have one yourself. But you probably don't know anyone sporting a high-tech wrist or finger joint. Joint replacement of the hand is less common than surgery to replace a knee or hip joint, partly because the intricate bone structure and small size of the hand make the procedure more challenging. Still, surgeons have been replacing hand joints in selected patients since the 1970s. The chief reason is arthritis, the most common cause of pain and disability in older people.

Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis

More than 20 million Americans, most of them women, have osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease that affects mostly people over age 40. Osteoarthritis degrades the cartilage that protects the ends of the bones. It also inflames the synovium, the membrane that covers the joint and supplies lubrication and nourishment to its tissues. The main symptom is pain that worsens with activity and is relieved by rest. Treatment usually involves a combination of rest, heat and cold therapy, pain medication, and exercise, but sometimes surgery is needed.

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