Hand Surgery Side Effects That Can Easily Be Avoided…

by Chris Centeno, MD /

hand surgery side effects

If you’ve ever wondered why sometimes I seem to be a bit “anti-surgery,” you would only need to spend a day with me in clinic to find out why. We see surgery train wrecks day in and day out. What makes them so upsetting is that most of the time, the surgery could have been avoided with much less invasive, interventional orthopedics, using precise platelet or stem cell injections. This morning I’d like to go over a case I evaluated yesterday with one of our fellows. What began as a tendon transfer surgery for thumb arthritis and a fusion of a finger joint ended up as a demonstration of horrific hand surgery side effects with a failed tendon surgery and dead finger.

Tendon Interposition for Thumb Arthritis and Finger Fusion

The idea behind a tendon interposition surgery for arthritis at the base of the thumb is to take a tendon from the wrist, remove a bone, and use the tendon to cushion an unstable and arthritic joint. The idea is interesting but horribly invasive. Given that we routinely and often successfully treat this same thumb arthritis condition with a few precise rounds of platelet rich plasma (PRP) or stem cells, it’s crazy to think that a surgeon would consider such an invasive way to help a simple problem which exposes the patient to these types of hand surgery side effects.

Finger fusion is an even sillier surgery. The concept is that if the joint is locking or hurts due to arthritis, the best option is to fuse it solid so it no longer moves. Again, tough to see when an injection of PRP or stem cells often does the trick.

Hand Surgery Side Effects: You Just Can’t Make This Stuff Up!

Sometimes, based on what I see in clinic, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. For example, take this woman who I evaluated this week (whose hand picture is above). She had simple thumb arthritis or texting thumb. The surgeon removed a bone in the wrist and inserted a tendon. That surgery failed which caused her carpal tunnel syndrome to flare up. Another thumb joint then locked up and became permanently stiff, leaving her with a barely functional hand. Is this surprising? Nope. The thumb surgery complication rate in one study was a whopping 22%!!! The surgeon then attempted to fix the damage from the first surgery at the same time he tried to help the carpal tunnel, only to make the thumb still worse.

However, all that paled in comparison to her middle-finger joint arthritis surgery and the horrific hand surgery side effects that ensued. Here, the joint was painful and was locking, so the surgeon tried to fuse the joint. When the dressings came off, her finger had “dry gangrene” as if she had gotten frostbite while scaling Everest, except it was 90 degrees outside. In this case, it looks like the pressure from the swelling from the surgical fusion led to a dead fingertip (picture above). Again, you just can’t make this stuff up!

The Regenerative-Medicine Approach Using Interventional Orthopedics

The patient came in for us to treat the opposite thumb, as she had had enough hand surgery side effects for one lifetime. For that thumb, we’ll use our usual protocol of precise injections around the irritated nerve in her wrist, into the arthritic joint, and into the stretched-out capsule. That last step is critical as that’s allowing the joint to be sloppy and painful. See below:

The upshot? All you would need is a few days of seeing new patients with me to understand at a gut level what a bull in the proverbial china shop of the musculoskeletal-system traditional-orthopedic surgery can be. If you then also understood how many of these patients we could have helped with precise PRP or stem cell injections with far less morbidity, you would be shocked. This is why I’m so passionate about this subject and have devoted my career to helping physicians learn how to replace elective orthopedic surgery with less invasive injection based stem cell and PRP treatments! That doesn’t mean that all elective orthopedic surgery doesn’t need to be performed, but I expect that as they years progress and as interventional orthopedics gets more advanced, that we’ll reach a time toward the end of my career where 70-80% of it is relegated to the dustbin of medical history. By then, hopefully we’ll have no more dead fingers!

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7 thoughts on “Hand Surgery Side Effects That Can Easily Be Avoided…

  1. Donna

    I had a tendon that had become lax and was causing gripping problems with my left hand. I insisted that I wanted to avoid surgery so the hand specialist suggested prolo therapy. He had no experience but a Dr. friend had shown him what to do. The first injection helped along with me wearing a brace. We did another injection and continued to wear the brace. The tendon tightened up and is doing well. My Dr. was very impressed and sent pictures to the Dr that trained him. Prolo therapy needs to be at least tried before surgery.

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Donna,
      Glad it helped! Prolotherapy was the first regenerative procedure, and is still used widely to tighten lax ligaments. Trying the least invasive procedures with the most potential and the least risk is always the way to go. There are one of a kind orthobiologic injection courses given by Interventional Orthopedic Foundation your Dr. might be interested in: https://interventionalorthopedics.org/upcoming-education/

  2. Douglas McGregor

    Thank you for enlightening us on this topic.
    It’s like we are still living back in the dark ages.
    I’m surprised they didn’t bleed the woman first before they destroyed her hand.

  3. jim blackmon

    Im wondering about help for a totally shot hip????????????

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Jim,

      A totally shot hip, if what you mean is severe hip arthritis, would usually need the Cultured procedure done in the Caymans rather than the Same Day procedure done in the US. Hip arthritis and knee arthritis are very different diseases: http://www.regenexx.com/blog/new-research-knee-and-hip-oa-are-different/

  4. Meredith Hatten

    I just had a finger fusion on my left hand ring finger. I have suffered from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis since I was two years old. I am now 35. My ring fingers on both hands are severly bent and painful but I have learned to live with it. The surgeon told me he could straighten my finger with the fusion surgery. I knew what I was giving up, the movement in my finger but I was going to get a straight finger with no pain so I did it. Well it’s been two weeks since the surgery and my finger is fat and puffy and still bent like it was only now it’s unmoveable and I’m devestated. Why isn’t it straight. I don’t know what to do and now I’ve lost my finger movement. I had a sucessful total knee replacement when I was 29 these are different surgeons however. This finger surgery was to be followed by a wrist fusion and finger joint replacement later for my right hand finger but now I dont want to dare let him touch me again. I feel so angry and stupid like I did this to myself and I dont know what I can do about it. Help and suggestions please?

    1. Regenexx Team

      Hi Meredith,
      We can understand how devastating that can be. Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do for the fused finger. We may be able to help you avoid the other planned surgeries. To have us weigh in and see if we can help, please submit the Candidate form here: http://www.regenexx.com Please see:https://regenexx.com/conditions-treated/hand-and-wrist/

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
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