A finger joint replacement involves removing a damaged or worn joint from the finger and putting in an artificial one.
Also called an arthroplasty, this type of surgery is most commonly used in cases of arthritis but may sometimes be recommended for other causes of joint damage.
If you’re considering finger joint replacement, it’s important to speak with a doctor about the benefits and risks of this surgery, as well as what to expect during the procedure and recovery processes.
Finger joint replacements may be considered when a joint has sustained a significant injury or in cases where the bone has been worn down from arthritis.
The primary benefit of this surgery is to ease severe and chronic pain. It may also help you regain flexibility and range of motion in your hand while correcting structural irregularities in the joint.
While a finger joint arthroplasty may be recommended to treat pain in a diseased or injured joint when other measures have failed, it’s important to know that there’s no guarantee the surgery will improve movement in the affected joint.
Common side effects of finger joint replacement include:
- skin discoloration
- reduced range of motion
- squeaking noises during joint movement
- adverse reactions to general anesthesia, such as nausea and vomiting
While rare, more serious complications may develop from this surgery. Before undergoing a finger joint replacement, speak with a doctor about the following risks:
- blood vessel or nerve damage
- long-term pain
- tendon damage
- loosening, instability, or failure of the joint implant
There are two types of finger joint replacement procedures:
- Metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joint replacement: In this procedure, a surgeon replaces the joint through the knuckle. This technique may be used in surgeries for rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
- Proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joint replacement: This is done on the middle portion of your finger between your knuckle and fingernail, and it is more common in surgery for osteoarthritis (OA)
Most artificial finger joints are made of silicone, but a surgeon may consider alternative materials, such as pyrocarbon.
Here’s what you may expect before, during, and after this procedure:
Before the procedure
Before your finger joint replacement, a doctor will assess your overall health to determine whether it’s safe for you to have surgery. They may also run blood tests. You may be asked to stop taking certain medications, such as blood thinners, and you’ll be advised to stop smoking if you smoke.
Avoid drinking or eating after midnight on the day of your surgery. It’s also not safe to drink alcohol 24 hours beforehand, if you drink.
You’ll need to arrive at the hospital or outpatient center a few hours ahead of your scheduled surgery so you may be prepped for the operation, which includes receiving general anesthesia.
During the procedure
During a finger joint arthroplasty, the surgeon will make an incision in your finger and may reposition or split a tendon to access your joint, if needed. Next, they’ll cut the ends of the affected bone to remove it before replacing it with an artificial joint.
Before sealing the incision, the surgeon may fix the split tendon, if necessary. Once the incision is stitched together, your hand will be placed in a dressing with a cast over it.
After the procedure
Before leaving the hospital, you will be shown hand exercises you can do at home to help increase mobility and reduce swelling.
Most people go home on the day of the procedure. You will need someone to help you get home and stay with you for at least the first 24 hours after your finger joint arthroplasty. If any complications arise during your surgery, you may need to stay in the hospital overnight.
You can expect your hand to swell after surgery, and you will be asked to keep it elevated as much as possible.
One of the purposes of having this surgery is to reduce pain in your hand, but it’s common to experience temporary swelling, bruising, and pain after the procedure. Temporary pain occurs when your body’s getting used to the new joint and as tissues heal.
However, the pain should fully resolve within a few months. If you’re in severe pain, a doctor may prescribe pain relievers on a short-term basis.
Persistent pain is also a possible side effect associated with this procedure. Speak with a doctor if the pain doesn’t subside after having this surgery.
It can take at least 3 months for a finger joint replacement to heal. It may even take several months for full recovery.
While the exact experience is highly individual, you can use the following timeline as a general guide:
- 4 weeks: You may be able to start using the affected hand again.
- 6 to 8 weeks: You may be able to resume light activities.
- 6 to 10 weeks: At this point, you may be able to start driving again.
- 8 to 12 weeks: You may go back to work.
- 12 weeks: A doctor may allow you to resume sports and hobbies, though contact sports may not be recommended.
Finger joint replacement surgery is considered successful overall, according to one 2021 research review.
However, it’s important to speak with a doctor about the possibility of the silicone joint failing in the future, due to cracks from natural wear and tear.
You may be a candidate for a finger joint arthroplasty if you have a severely damaged joint due to an injury or underlying condition, such as RA or OA.
A doctor may also consider you a good candidate if you:
- are in good health overall
- fully understand the risks and benefits of the surgery
- do not have any immune-related conditions that would slow the healing process after surgery
- do not smoke
The estimated cost of a finger joint arthroplasty in 2023 was $22,092. While individual insurance plans vary, finger joint replacement is likely covered by private and government insurance programs if a doctor deems that you’re a candidate for this surgery.
However, keep in mind that your out-of-pocket costs may vary based on your deductible, co-payments, and other criteria outlined by your insurance plan, if you have insurance.
You may also receive separate bills from the surgeon, hospital, and anesthesiologist. Prescription medications, postsurgery garments, and test fees are other additional costs.
Typically, a doctor may recommend nonsurgical treatments before considering a major surgery such as finger joint arthroplasty. Possible methods include:
- pain medications
- steroid medications or injections to reduce inflammation
- wearing ring splints on your fingers
- hand and finger exercises
- physical therapy
If your finger joint is significantly damaged and interfering with your daily activities and quality of life, then a healthcare professional may recommend an arthroplasty. As with other types of major surgeries, there are both potential benefits to weigh against possible risks.
Speak with a doctor about your current finger joint symptoms and current treatment plan. They may consider a finger joint replacement if other treatments aren’t working to treat pain and any reduced mobility you may be experiencing.