Better Me

Could Removing Some Nerves Eliminate Your Arthritis Pain?

If you have osteoarthritis, you’ve probably tried the first-line treatments—pain medications, anti-inflammatory pills, creams and injections. They can reduce the pain, but you need to repeat them to get relief. And as your arthritis gets worse, they might not be effective anymore.

Once first-line treatments aren’t working, most people become candidates for joint replacement surgery. These procedures can be helpful, but they have some down sides—they are expensive and invasive, require long recovery times, and can have devastating complications if the implanted joints fail or become infected.

People who don’t want to have joint replacement surgery, or aren’t able to, can consider joint denervation. It’s a minimally invasive treatment that can eliminate arthritis pain.

Here’s how joint denervation works

Your nerves send pain signals from your inflamed joint to your brain. With joint denervation, the nerves that are involved are removed, so you no longer feel the pain. “It is like unplugging an alarm clock so that the alarm is no longer sounding,” said Joshua Hustedt, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with Banner – University Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Institute in Phoenix, AZ.

Only the pain-transmitting nerves are removed, so you still have normal sensation in your skin and normal functioning in your joint. It’s typically used in the knees, hands, wrists and elbows.

It’s an attractive option for younger people who are still active, older or sicker people who face higher risks from major surgery, and people who want to recover more quickly compared to joint replacement.

A nerve block test can help you see how much pain relief you can expect from joint denervation. “We encourage patients to conduct a test block to see if this procedure may be right for them,” Dr. Hustedt said. For the test, an anesthetic is placed around the nerves to temporarily block them, so you can assess the level of pain relief and decide if joint denervation is right for you.

Joint denervation can bring fast relief that lasts

Joint denervation works relatively quickly. “People most often report a complete resolution of their joint pain in as little as three weeks, compared to up to one year with joint replacement,” Dr. Hustedt said.

And most people get permanent pain relief from joint denervation. “This makes it a great choice over other minimally invasive procedures that need to be repeated over and over again in order to maintain pain control,” Dr. Hustedt said.

The bottom line

“Joint denervation has the ability to provide comparable pain control, with significantly shorter postoperative recovery times, decreased costs and decreased complications than joint replacement,” Dr. Hustedt said. “If you have arthritis, a consultation and nerve block test can help you decide if joint denervation is right for you.”

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