What Is an Arthrodesis?

The most common arthrodesis, called a spinal fusion, is performed on the back.
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  • Written By: Sandra Koehler
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2014
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Arthrodesis is a surgical procedure that artificially joins or fuses joints together to stop the painful motion at the joint segment and to provide stability. The most common arthodesis procedures are performed on the back, called spinal fusion, but this surgical intervention can be performed on other areas of the body. The ankle is another common site for this procedure.

Arthrodesis is performed when, through injury or the natural aging process, stability, joint alignment and mobility are inhibited. Pain with movement is another reason why fusion may be an option. Arthritis, for example, can cause inflammation or swelling, and misalignment of the joints, which causes painful joint rubbing.

There are several methods employed when fusing bones. A bone graft taken from the pelvic area or a bone bank can be used. This bone can be inserted to build a bridge across the affected area. This real bone connection stimulates new bone growth over it. Metal implants, such as pins, screws, rods and plates can also be used. This type of arthrodesis is used to secure the joint until new bone grows in its place.

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Arthodesis can be used following a severe injury which impedes normal, stable movement of the joint. In recent years, it has also been successful in treating things like spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal which can irritate spinal nerves. Stenosis is a normal part of aging, however, in some people it can cause numbness, tingling and pain. Other conditions arthrodesis can help are herniated discs, where the disc or shock absorber inside the spinal bones leaks out, spinal injuries, joint deformities, and in some cases, even infection processes. This procedure has also been successful in treating arthritis of the ankles where weight bearing and movement are painful.

Since arthrodesis is a surgical procedure, some risks should be expected. Graft rejection or failure of the fusion can occur. Pain at the site is common. Nerve injury can also occur. Possible wound healing complications, such as infection and deep venous blood clots are also risk factors to consider.

After arthrodesis, an increase in stability and alignment can be attained, yet a general decrease in flexibility and motion is to be expected, as the joints are now fused together. In most cases, the goal of decreasing the pain is accomplished. Follow-up physical therapy is often recommended to regain full motion and strength.

General health and realistic goals should be taken into account before opting for this surgery. Typically, your health care provider will exhaust all other conservative treatment options before considering arthrodesis surgery.

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