In a normal joint, bones have a smooth, glistening surface made of a substance called articular cartilage on their ends that allows one bone to glide easily against another. Joints are lubricated by a thin layer of synovial fluid that acts to keep moving parts gliding smoothly. When the articular cartilage wears out or is damaged or the joint fluid is abnormal, problems develop and joints often become stiff and painful, resulting in arthritis. This basic problem is the same in all types of arthritis - the joint surfaces are worn out or not moving properly. In some cases, it may be possible to treat arthritic joints surgically, including joint replacement by a board certified hand surgeon.
In a joint replacement, the abnormal bone and lining structures of the joint are removed surgically, and new parts are inserted in their places. These new parts may be made of special metal, plastic, or specific kinds of carbon-coated implants. The new parts allow the joints to move again with little or no pain.
Therapy supervised by a trained hand therapist is almost always required after any joint replacement surgery, usually for several months. Special splints are generally used depending on which joint was replaced and how the surgery was performed.