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Joint Denervation

Joint denervation is a surgical procedure that treats chronic (ongoing) joint pain. Your nerves send signals from a painful joint to your brain. With joint denervation, surgeons remove the nerves that are transmitting the pain signals, so you no longer feel the pain. 

The procedure only affects the nerves, not the joint itself. Only the pain-transmitting nerves are removed, so you still have normal sensation in your skin and your joint will bend like normal. It’s a common and safe treatment option that’s often used to treat chronic joint pain in your fingers, thumb, wrist or knee. 

Nerve pain symptoms

With joint pain, you may notice:

  • Burning
  • Tingling
  • Sharp or shooting pain
  • Tenderness on the skin covering the joint

Conditions like arthritis, tendinitis, bursitis or trauma could cause this pain, which might be severe enough to wake you up at night. 

When is joint denervation recommended?

Many people try pain medications, anti-inflammatory pills, creams, injections, exercises and physical therapy to find relief. These treatments may work for a while, but over time they may not be effective anymore. If those methods aren’t working, joint replacement surgery may be an option. 

Joint replacement can be helpful, but it has some downsides. The surgery is expensive, requires long recovery times and can create complications if the implanted joint fails or becomes infected. And sometimes, people still have pain after joint replacement surgery.

If you don’t want to have joint replacement surgery, aren’t able to because of your age or other health conditions or still have pain after surgery, talk to your health care provider to see if joint denervation might be an option for you.

Joint denervation may also be a good choice for younger people who are still active, older or frail people who face higher risks from major surgery and people who want to recover more quickly compared to joint replacement.

Joint denervation is often used to treat pain in the:

Diagnosing nerve pain

Not all types of joint pain can be treated with joint denervation. So your health care provider will want to figure out what’s causing your pain. They may recommend MRIs or X-rays to look closely at your joints and nearby tissues.

If your provider thinks joint denervation might help, they may first recommend a nerve block test. For this test, they inject an anesthetic (numbing medicine) around the nerves to temporarily block them. When the nerves are blocked, you can see how much pain relief you get. If you have little or no pain, it’s likely that joint denervation will help.   

The joint denervation surgery process

Your health care provider will explain what you need to do before surgery. You may need to avoid all food and drink for eight hours before the surgery. Your provider may also ask you to stop taking certain medications.

During the procedure, surgeons work through several small incisions to carefully remove the nerves near the joint that send pain signals. They leave the nerves that provide sensation and function in your joint untouched.

Many people can have the procedure without the need for general anesthesia, and most go home the same day. 

Because the procedure is performed through small incisions and doesn’t involve the joints, recovery is faster and easier than with many other surgeries. You shouldn’t need a cast or physical therapy. You should be able to use your joint normally after surgery and return to your regular activities in a week or two.

After the surgery, you should find that your pain is gone within three to four weeks and you no longer need to take pain medication. The results are usually permanent. You should be able to do the things you could do before pain made them difficult. 

Risks of joint denervation surgery are minimal. As with any surgery, there’s a risk of pain or bleeding. A small number of people still report pain or have some loss of sensation after the procedure. There’s a much smaller risk of complications from joint denervation surgery than from joint replacement surgery.

Key points about joint denervation

Joint denervation is a minimally invasive procedure that can treat chronic joint pain. With this surgical treatment, doctors remove the nerves that are transmitting pain signals from the joint to the brain. They leave the nerves that send signals for sensation and function untouched. 

It may be a good option for people who don’t want to have joint replacement surgery or who don’t qualify for it.

If you’re considering surgery to treat painful joints, you should talk to your health care provider about the benefits and risks of different treatment options. Together, you can come up with a treatment plan that can provide relief from your joint pain. 

Meet our doctors who specialize in joint denervation or discuss your needs with your primary care physician.