Joint fusion is a technique in which a surgeon removes the parts of a joint that have arthritis, or an entire disc in the back. The surgeon then inserts rods, pins, screws, or metal plates to hold the bones or vertebrae together, so they fuse while they heal. This surgery is typically used to treat severe bunions, degenerative disk disease, scoliosis, and other severe joint issues.
At A Glance: Liposuction
Also Known As
Varies depending on which joint is fused
Typical Recovery Time
Six to 12 Weeks
Typical Price Range
Tell Me About The Surgery
Procedure Research and Consultation
How is joint fusion done?
The surgeon will make an incision, then scrape away all damaged tissue from the joint. The surgeon will then place a small piece of bone between the two ends of your joint. Typically, this small piece of bone will be taken from a pelvic bone, heel, or just below the knee. It could also come from a bone bank. Next, they’ll use metal plates, screws, or wires to close the space within the joint, allowing the joint to fuse as it heals.
What issue does joint fusion solve?
Over time, arthritis can cause severe damage to joints. If other treatments haven’t helped, joint fusion can be effective. It should provide significant pain relief after recovery.
Do I have options for anesthesia for joint fusion surgery?
General anesthesia is most common for this procedure. But regional anesthetics—spinal, epidural, or regional—are also possibilities depending on which joints are being fused.
How do I know joint fusion surgery is right for me?
You might be a good candidate for joint fusion surgery if you’ve tried alternatives and nothing’s working to resolve your pain.
How safe is joint fusion surgery?
In general, severe complications from total joint fusion are rare. After this surgery, you can expect to lose some range of motion and feel stiffness in your joint.
What are possible side effects and complications of joint fusion surgery?
While they’re rare, some of the possible complications of this procedure include painful scar tissue, arthritis in nearby joints, infection, bleeding, blood clots, and nerve damage. Smokers are also at risk for a condition called pseudoarthrosis. This means there’s not enough bone for the joint to fully fuse, and it may require a second surgery.
What are the possible side effects of general anesthesia?
Some of the possible side effects include nausea and vomiting, dry mouth, sore throat, muscle aches, headache, bruising (from the IV), itching, shivering and feeling cold, difficulty urinating, and sleepiness. In older patients, memory loss and temporary confusion are possible.
What are the alternatives to joint fusion surgery?
Before deciding on fusion as a solution to your joint problems, you might want to consider the alternatives. They include a synthetic cartilage implant that closely resembles natural cartilage without inhibiting natural range of motion. A total joint replacement is another viable alternative to fusion surgery. Artificial ankles and joints mimic the natural movement of your joints, and they’re anchored so they won’t slip or loosen over time.
What are the risks of not having joint fusion surgery?
If your doctor recommends joint fusion surgery and you don’t have it, pain from the damaged joint could continue to decrease your range of movement, affecting your ability to move and complete simple, everyday tasks. That will impact your overall health, making your joint problem worse. And the longer you wait, the more your joint may deteriorate.
What kind of outcome is typical for joint fusion surgery?
A joint fusion surgery should alleviate pain, and physical therapy can help keep your other joints in good, working shape.
Consultation and Choosing A Surgeon or Surgical Team
Do I need a referral to see a surgeon about joint fusion surgery?
What should I bring to my first appointment with a surgeon to talk about joint fusion surgery?
Insurance information Medical records, including your medical history, from your primary care physician.The most recent diagnostic labs and imaging (Not sure where to go? Check out Gateway Hancock Health, where you’ll be able to get in and out quickly and pay, on average, 70% less than you’ll pay at a hospital.)
Do I have to get a second or third opinion for joint fusion surgery?
You can always get a second or third opinion, but it isn’t required.
How should I decide which surgeon’s advice to follow?
You should work with the surgeon with whom you feel comfortable, whether that’s one of our surgeons or not.
Will the surgical team know my health history?
Your health history will be compiled and available to the team before, during, and after surgery. If you’re a Hancock Health patient, we will be able to access your records within our system. If you aren’t, we will work with your doctors to get the necessary information.
Why might I have to wait to schedule joint fusion replacement surgery?
In some cases it takes time for a patient’s body to be ready for surgery; for example, if you have another medical issue, including another surgical procedure or an illness, we might wait to schedule surgery. Your health and safety are our top priorities, so we schedule surgeries when they’re best for our patients.
What happens if my symptoms get worse while I wait for joint fusion surgery?
Your surgical team will evaluate the situation and help you make a choice that’s right for you and your health. Temporary treatments might be used if your surgery is rescheduled.
Insurance & Cost
How much does joint fusion surgery cost?
Consult the Price Transparency Tool at HancockRegionalHospital.org for an idea of how much joint fusion surgery might cost.
Will insurance cover joint fusion surgery?
In most cases, insurance will cover most of the costs associated with joint fusion surgery. To obtain your possible out-of-pocket expenses, use our Price Estimator Tool.
Will Medicare cover joint fusion surgery?
Medicare parts A and B will cover the cost of joint fusion surgery, but it’s important for your doctor to indicate that the surgery is medically necessary.
What are payment options like for joint fusion surgery at Hancock Health?
Hancock Health is committed to helping make great care affordable for all patients. To find out more about payment options, please visit the billing and insurance FAQ page at HancockRegionalHospital.org.
Pre-op and Day of Surgery
How should I prepare for this joint fusion surgery?
You’ll probably be instructed not to eat anything after midnight on the day of your surgery, and you might also be told to stop taking certain medications or dietary supplements.
Why can’t I eat before surgery?
There’s a risk of aspiration, which means breathing foreign objects, like food or saliva, into your lungs. This can occur because the anesthetic for surgery can impair your body’s ability to stop the contents of your stomach from entering your lungs.
What should I expect right before joint fusion surgery?
You’ll arrive several hours before your surgery and be escorted to the preoperative waiting area.You’ll remove all of your clothing and jewelry, and put on a hospital gown. (Your valuables will be placed in a secure area or may be given to a family member.) You’ll sign any necessary paperwork and a preoperative nurse will take your vital signs, review your medications, and answer any questions.You’ll meet your anesthesiologist and the members of your surgery team. They will mark the location of your surgery on your body. An I.V. (intravenous line) will be placed in your hand or arm, so medications—including general anesthesia—can be administered. If you’re using a different kind of anesthesia, you’ll receive an injection.When it’s time for your surgery, you will be wheeled into the operating suite on a stretcher.
Will I need someone to take me home after joint fusion surgery?
For your safety and the safety of other motorists, you will need someone to drive you home. If you don’t have a ride, we’ll help you arrange one.
Why are there so many people on my surgery team?
In addition to the surgeon, you have an anesthesiologist, who handles your anesthesia, nurses—some of them specialize in working with patients and others assist the surgeon—and support staff, who get you checked in and out, compile your records, and more. They all work together, performing their individual jobs, so the procedure is as successful as possible.
Why am I asked for my name and date of birth every time I get medicine?
It’s a safety precaution to make sure you’re receiving the medication that’s prescribed for you.
What do I need to bring to the hospital the day of my joint fusion surgery?
Anything you’ll need for an overnight stay, including a change of underwear, a sweatshirt, glasses or contacts, headphones, and your medications.
How long does it take the anesthesia to wear off?
It takes about an hour for general anesthesia to wear off, but you may notice the effects for a day or so. It usually takes 30 minutes to an hour for local anesthesia to wear off, though the effects can last a few hours.
What will happen during joint fusion surgery?
You’ll breathe oxygen through a mask and your team will track your vital signs as the surgery is performed.
When will my family be informed about how I’m doing?
Our associates will get information from the surgical team in the operating room during your surgery and keep them updated. Following the procedure, your surgeon will talk with them in person.
How long will the joint fusion procedure take?
Joint fusion surgery typically takes one to three hours.
How long will I be under for joint fusion surgery?
If your surgery requires general anesthesia, you will be anesthetized during the entire procedure and a few minutes afterward.
How long will I be in the hospital after joint fusion surgery?
The length of a hospital stay depends on each patient’s individual needs, a more simple joint fusion of a finger or toe is typically outpatient, and you can return home the same day. A fusion of the spine is more invasive and complex and may require you to stay at the hospital longer.
What can I expect right after joint fusion surgery?
You’ll wake up from surgery in the recovery room and, as you start to regain feeling in your body, you’ll receive pain medication. After leaving the recovery room, you’ll be taken to your hospital room where you will be able to see friends or family who came with you.
How will I know if joint fusion surgery worked?
Your surgeon will discuss your procedure with you. It can take up to three months for the bones to fully fuse and as much as a year to fully recover.
When will I get to talk to my surgeon after surgery?
You’ll be able to talk to your surgeon immediately after your procedure, while you’re in the recovery room.
How soon after joint fusion surgery will I be up and moving around?
This depends on the joint affected by the surgery. It’s important to follow the recommendations of your surgery and physical therapy teams throughout your recovery process.
Will I receive pain medication right after surgery?
In most cases, patients receive pain medication immediately following surgery.
How soon after joint fusion surgery can I eat or drink?
You may not be able to eat or drink right away and you may be asked to follow a clear fluid diet for one to three days. After that, you may return to solid foods—but easy-to-digest items, including soups, pudding, and yogurt, are recommended.
Will I need to fill any prescriptions or take medication after joint fusion surgery?
You may be prescribed pain medication, anticoagulants, and/or other symptom-reducing medications.
Recovery and Follow-Up
What will I need to do to prepare for my recovery from joint fusion surgery?
Make sure you’ll have help with everyday tasks, such as cooking, showering, and doing laundry. If you live alone, our associates can help you find a temporary caretaker.
How should I prepare for my at-home recovery?
Create a living space on your first floor—climbing stairs can be difficult right after surgery.Remove loose rugs and cords. Install safety bars or a secure handrail in your shower or bath and secure stairway handrails.Get a stable, comfortable chair with a firm seat cushion and back, and a footstool to elevate your leg if you’re recovering from an ankle fusion.Arrange for a toilet seat riser with arms if you have a low toilet.Get a bench or chair for your shower.Shop for the groceries you’ll need when you return home from the hospital.If you live alone, ask a friend or family member to check in with you.
If I need physical therapy or rehabilitation after joint fusion surgery, how is that arranged?
Our associates will help you arrange the postoperative care you’ll need.
Will I need any follow-up appointments or procedures after joint fusion surgery?
You’ll have an appointment with your surgeon about two weeks after your surgery. Your outpatient physical therapy sessions will begin almost immediately following your surgery and last for six to 12 weeks, maybe more. You’ll also schedule another appointment to check in with your surgeon about a year after your procedure.
Will there be any scarring or stitches to remove after joint fusion surgery?
Your stitches or staples will likely be removed during your first postoperative appointment with your surgeon, about two weeks after surgery. There will be a scar where the incision was made.
What do I need to have to care for any wounds or incisions?
You’ll need fresh dressings but you won’t need antibiotic ointment, as putting it on the area is unnecessary.
How do I care for my incision at home?
Change your dressing daily, starting two days after you leave the hospital. Don’t scrub the incision area. If you have steri-strips over your incision, they will fall off on their own within about two weeks.You may remove your dressing and shower two days after your surgery if there is no drainage from your incision. Carefully pat the incision dry after your shower and reapply the dressing.For about two weeks, don’t submerge your incision in water by taking a bathtub bath or getting in a pool or hot tub. When the incisions are completely healed, feel free to resume those activities.
What should I do if I have an emergency or accident after joint fusion surgery?
If you fall after surgery, or have another kind of emergency, call your surgeon’s office. If you’re in need of immediate emergency services, go to the nearest emergency room.
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