New implant offers long-term treatment for arthritis

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Dr. Lance Silverman showing how a new implant can provide relief for those who suffer from arthritis.

Millions of Americans suffer from excruciating pain that makes it hard for them to stay active, but a first-of-its-kind implant could bring new hope for people with arthritis.

Some two million Americans suffer from big toe arthritis, which makes it hard for them to do simple things like exercise or for women, wear high heels.

The FDA, however, approved a new implant last year that could help people with the condition get back on their feet.

"Stiffness is the most troublesome symptom. People can't bend over their big toe," Edina orthopedic surgeon Dr Lance Silverman said. "They can't squat down. They can't get into shoes." 

Dr Silverman says big toe arthritis is caused when the cartilage in the joint wears out, making the bones rub against one another, limiting the toe's movement and causing excruciating pain.

He's the first orthopedic surgeon in Minneapolis to perform a procedure that takes an implant called Cartiva, which is the size of a gum drop and made out of the same material as contact lenses, and inserts it between the bones to act as a shock absorber.

"It's so exciting because it's simple," Dr. Silverman said. "It's an elegant solution. It reproduces Mother Nature as closely as humans have been able to in this particular area and does so with an excellent track record."

Dr. Silverman says the usual treatment for big toe arthritis is to fuse the bones together, but that means the patient can't bend their toe anymore.

But with the Cartiva implant, the toe retains its full range of motion and patients are back in regular shoes within a couple of weeks, rather than a couple of months with a bone fusion.

"It allows you to do the running, the jogging you want to," Dr. Silverman said. "It allows people to get back to yoga exercises where they can bend their toe joint and don't have to roll out out as much. So there is some success that fusion just can't provide."

The Cartiva synthetic cartilage implant has been available in Europe and Canada for a decade, where doctors have used it to treat arthritic knees and even thumbs.