Elbow Surgery

Surgical options for elbow pain.
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Some elbow conditions may require surgery, especially if conservative treatment options haven’t been successful. For example, tendon tears may require surgery to remove or repair damaged tissue and restore strength.

Some elbow surgeries can be done arthroscopically, with your surgeon placing their surgical instruments through two small incisions to make repairs. An arthroscope causes less harm to healthy tissues and greatly reduces recovery time compared to traditional surgery.

Bone spurs, cartilage damage, tendon tears, and arthritis can be treated with arthroscopic surgery. Often, such surgery can address multiple elbow conditions at one time.

Elbow Surgery

Before Surgery

Elbow arthroscopy can last 30-90 minutes, depending on how much repair needs to be done. It’s an outpatient procedure, so you don’t have to stay overnight in the hospital.

You arrive at the facility about an hour before your actual surgery time and are checked in by our staff. You change into a surgical gown and we check your heart and lungs, blood pressure, pulse, and temperature. We start an IV to give you fluids and medications, and prep the skin around your surgery site.

You’ll then talk with the anesthesia staff about your health history, past surgeries, current medications, and anesthesia options.

A monitored anesthetic often lets you relax and fall asleep without the effects of a general anesthetic. At the end of surgery, a local anesthetic is injected into the elbow to help manage initial discomfort.

Learn More: Surgery at the ASC: What You Can Expect


During Surgery

Once you’re asleep in the operating room, your elbow is filled with saline to expand the joint, making it easier for your surgeon to move instruments and see tissues.

Your surgeon first inserts an arthroscope, a tiny camera hooked up to a large computer screen, to magnify the structures in your elbow. ThenĀ they make another incision to insert surgical instruments and repair whatever repairable damage they find, even if it’s unexpected.

MRIs can miss damage in your elbow, but during an arthroscopy, your surgeon can see everything that’s problematic. A Physician’s Assistant (PA) often helps your surgeon and understands everything that was done.

After Surgery

Right after surgery, you’ll be asked to make a fist and use your forearm muscles to increase blood flow and help prevent blood clots. This is important, since your activity level will decrease after surgery.

Also after surgery, your surgeon will tell your family what they found and any limitations you’ll have using your arm. You’ll be placed in a sling the first day and can typically wean from it as you’re able.

Usually, your surgeon will ask you to rest and recover for a few days after surgery. After that, you can remove the bulky surgical dressing and take a shower.

Caring for yourself after an elbow arthroscopy can be hard, and you may need extra help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.

One to two weeks after an arthroscopy, you’ll meet with your surgeon or a PA to discuss what they found, what was done, and your recovery process.

On average, it takes most patients four to six weeks before they’re back to daily activities; however, it can take six months to a year before they no longer notice any elbow pain.

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Hard Cartilage Damage and Arthroscopic Chondroplasty

Your elbow joint is where your upper arm bone (humerus) and forearm bones (ulna and radius) meet. These bony surfaces are covered by smooth, hard cartilage.

Cartilage defects or flaps can cause your elbow to have a painful catch or click, which can limit motion and make it hard to straighten your arm.

Relatively small defects can sometimes be polished and smoothed with gentle motion exercises, like using an arm bike with no resistance. Severe hard-cartilage damage may require surgery to remove the unstable flap of tissue.

An elbow chondroplasty is an arthroscopic procedure that removes fraying or flapped hard cartilage and smooths down remaining tissue.

After this procedure, you’re often placed in a sling and can wean from it as tolerated. Your surgeon will outline your post-surgery restrictions.