Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune illness where the immune system wrongly assaults the lining of the joints (synovium), causing chronic inflammation, discomfort and dysfunction. RA represents the most prevalent form of arthritis in the elbow, and its impact is most often symmetrical, affecting both elbows at the same time.
After more traditional treatment methods had failed to resolve the problem, Miriam and Dr. Riggenbach decided that elbow replacement surgery was her best option.
“Miriam had rheumatoid arthritis, and it significantly impacted her elbows,” says Dr. Riggenbach. “We tried multiple attempts at injections and other conservative treatments to try and help her symptoms and improve her pain, but ultimately it required elbow replacements on both elbows.”
Roughly 3,000 total elbow replacements are done annually in America. The elbow acts as a hinge joint comprising three bones: the upper arm bone (humerus), the inner forearm bone (ulna), and the outer forearm bone (radius).
Elbow replacement surgery begins with Dr. Riggenbach making an incision behind the elbow and removing inflamed tissue and bone. An artificial hinge with metallic stems is then inserted into the hollow cavities of the bones. The wound is closed and the elbow splinted.
“We did one stage at a time,” says Dr. Riggenbach. “Miriam’s done very well with this and she’s returned to active daily living. Cleaning around the house is not a problem for her, and she’s pain-free in everyday life.”
Miriam says the biggest benefit to the surgery is that the pain she dealt with every day for so long is now just gone – a night and day difference.
“The excruciating pain that I was suffering with is no longer in my life. I couldn’t do simple things like wash dishes before. I couldn’t wash my hair. I couldn’t lift my arms above my head to shampoo and blow dry. I can do all those things today.”