Fusion of the affected joints is the most common type of surgery performed for RA. Fusion takes the two bones that form a joint and fuses them together to make one bone.
During the surgery, the joints are exposed and the remaining cartilage is removed. The two bones are then held together with screws or a combination of screws and plates. This prevents the bones from moving. During the healing process, the body grows new bone between the bones in these joints.
Because the joint is no longer intact, this surgery does limit joint motion. Limited joint motion may not be felt by the patient, depending on the joints fused. The midfoot joints often do not have much motion to begin with, and fusing them does not create increased stiffness. The ankle joint normally does have a lot of motion, and fusing it will be noticeable to the patient. By limiting motion, fusion reduces the pain.
Fusion can be a successful technique. However, because patients with RA also show damaged cartilage and loose ligaments, the success rate of this type of surgery is lower in patients with RA than in patients without RA. The use of newer generation medication can slow the progression of the disease and impact the type of surgeries that can be performed successfully.