The Stitch

The hidden expertise: plastic surgeons and arthritis in the wrist and hand

Close up of person holding wrist in pain.When most people think of plastic surgeons, they envision professionals specializing in cosmetic enhancements, such as facelifts or breast augmentations. However, a facet of plastic surgeons often goes unnoticed – their ability to perform intricate procedures on bones and joints, including treating arthritis in the wrist and hand.

The role of plastic surgeons

While orthopedic surgeons are often the first choice for arthritis-related issues, hand surgery fellowship-trained plastic surgeons like Dr. Christine Yin, assistant professor in the Division of Plastic Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine, are increasingly recognized for their expertise in treating arthritis of the wrist and hand. Their training and skills extend beyond cosmetic procedures to various surgical techniques, including delicate work on bones and joints. A study published in the Journal of Hand Surgery found that plastic surgeons frequently perform joint reconstruction procedures for patients with arthritis, achieving excellent outcomes and patient satisfaction. According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, plastic surgeons specializing in hand surgery perform more than 25% of all hand surgeries in the United States.

Expertise in microsurgery

Headshot of Dr. Christine Yin.One of the key areas where plastic surgeons shine in the field of arthritis treatment is microsurgery. Microsurgical techniques involve working with magnification and precision instruments, making them ideal for intricate procedures in the small and delicate structures of the wrist and hand. Plastic surgeons often use these skills for joint reconstruction, arthroplasty and even bone grafting.

Arthritis is a widespread condition affecting millions of Americans. One of the most common forms of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which can develop in the wrist and hand joints over time. Women are twice as likely to develop osteoarthritis of the hand than men (47% vs. 25%). This degenerative joint disease can lead to pain, stiffness and decreased mobility, significantly impacting a person’s quality of life. Obesity has also been shown to confer an increased risk of arthritis.

The treatment of arthritis involves a very personalized plan that tailors the options to the patient’s lifestyle. Some nonsurgical options include bracing, occupational therapy, activity modifications and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications. A minimally invasive treatment may include steroid injections.

For arthritis that continues to be burdensome despite the less invasive therapeutic modalities, surgery can be an effective treatment and a plastic surgeon may be the best choice for the procedure.

By Tiffany Harston, communications associate with the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery

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