Replacing Worn Out Wrists

BILOXI MS. (WLOX) - Hip and knee replacements have changed the way many spend their golden years. Now, new wrists may do the same. Surgeons are successfully replacing joints that were at one time, too complicated to remove, and patients are able to get more enjoyment out of life again.

Avid sportsman James Murphy has always been an active outdoorsmen, and loves to ski every winter.  But rheumatoid arthritis took its toll. James suffered constant pain and stiffness in his wrists.

"It was difficult because I only had two fingers that I could hold on to the pole with. I couldn't plant as much as I wanted to."

In the past, the best way to relieve pain was to fuse bones together -- limiting mobility. Now orthopaedic specialists replace the entire wrist -- something they say is much more complicated than a hip or knee replacement.  Dr. Randall Culp is a hand and wrist specialist at Philadelphia Hand Center at Methodist Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, esplains why it's more difficult. "There are eight bones in the wrist. If you add that to the two forearm bones, you're talking about ten bones that need replacement."

Surgeons make an incision in the back of the wrist. They implant metal parts to support the forearm and fingers. Then a plastic spacer holds the joint together and allows movement. Dr. Culp says "We're also using what we call porous in-growth. We don't use bone cement anymore. This is all done through your own bone growing into the prosthesis."

James needed weeks of physical therapy to regain strength, but the pain was gone immediately after surgery. Now he's looking forward to enjoying the outdoors and getting back on the slopes next winter.  "Gonna feel a whole lot better by the time ski season comes around."

Doctors say the wrist prosthesis they're using is a newer one and they are still studying how long it will last.  But they say most patients will do well for at least ten years.

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