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Is Surgery the Right Way To Address Arthritis?

What happens when conventional medicine fails you?

An article published by The Washington Post tells the story of Beth Jersey—a 58-year old woman who lived in California who suffers from chronic pain caused by osteoarthritis.

Like a lot of sufferers, Beth’s pain stemmed from a deteriorating joint in her thumb, which made it very difficult for her to continue gardening. Because of this, she began to consider an outpatient procedure that was meant to repair her damaged joint.

It required replacing the cartilage with a graft from a tendon taken from her arm. She would have to wear a cast for a month while she recovered, and would possibly require physical therapy to regain mobility. But, as the surgeon assured her, she should be relatively pain-free in a span of three to six months.

“Two of her friends had undergone the same procedure and ‘were really happy with the results,’ she said. ‘They had no complications. It sounded really simple.’”

But what seemed like a quick and straightforward procedure was anything but.

Just hours after the procedure was completed, Beth felt a stabbing and burning sensation in her hand—even worse than her initial pain symptoms. Even when she began her physical therapy and her range of motion began to improve, the pain remained, making it harder to function.

Eventually, Beth’s medical team determined that she suffered from a condition called complex regional pain syndrome (CPRS). And while the condition is rare, in retrospect, she notes “that she regrets what she believes was a hasty and ill-considered decision that has left her hand in worse shape than it was before.”

You can read more about Beth’s story here. But what’s the key takeaway here?

As doctors, we are strong advocates of factual, medically backed, and intensively researched procedures or interventions that are meant to alleviate the pain caused by arthritis. But no matter how straightforward a particular treatment is, whether it’s minimally invasive or a major surgery, the decision to go through it will always be a big one. When it comes to managing arthritis, the decision to try new medication, start new therapy, or go under the knife is not something that you can make quickly or without thorough research.

Our advice?

By no means is this article meant to be fear mongering or to put you off medical/surgical interventions. We wanted to share this article just to make sure you’re aware that things may not always go according to plan.  

If you do decide to undergo surgery, learn everything you can about it first. Don’t be shy about asking a lot of questions. You can even go as far as asking about the treatment or procedure’s success rate, and the surgeon’s success record with that particular treatment. This is your health on the line after all, and you can never be too careful.

Be aware of the possible risks as well. Are there side effects that you should know of? Are there alternative treatments? What is the recovery process? Bear in mind that each person is different, and what might work for others may not necessarily work for you.

At the end of the day, understanding what these different treatment options can do for you will help you make more informed decisions about your condition. And when in doubt, it’s always better to know that you did everything you can to make sure that you made the right choice for your health.

If you suffer from arthritis, are currently exploring new treatments, procedures, or therapy to manage your condition, and have any questions about it, don’t hesitate to ask your physician about it. Or you can leave us a comment below and we’ll try to answer it as best as we can.


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