Normal bending and straightening of the elbow joint occurs where the humerus (the long bone in the upper arm) and the ulna bones (the long bone found in the forearm that stretches from the elbow to the smallest finger) join, supported by the muscles and ligaments. Certain conditions cause damage and can result in pain, swelling and loss of movement.
What does elbow arthroscopy involve?
Elbow arthroscopy is normally carried out under general anaesthetic. Several small incisions will be made around your elbow and the arthroscope will be inserted. The elbow joint will be filled with fluid to enable your surgeon to see the structures of the joint more clearly and lessen the risk of injury to nerves and blood vessels during surgery. Images from the arthroscope will be shown on a monitor, enabling your surgeon to examine the joint. Small surgical instruments will be inserted via the incision sites, any damage will be repaired and debris, such as loose pieces of bone and bony spurs which can develop as a result of arthritis, removed. Sutures will be used to close the incisions.
Non-surgical treatment, such as rest, anti-inflammatories, physiotherapy and injections to reduce inflammation will normally be recommended by your consultant for painful elbow conditions before any type of surgery. However, if your condition fails to respond to one of these therapies, surgery may then be offered.
Most elbow problems are the result of overuse, injury and age-related wear and tear. Elbow arthroscopy can be used for problems that cause damage to the cartilage surface and other soft tissues surrounding the joint, such as arthritis. It can also be used to remove loose pieces of bone and cartilage or to release scar tissue that may be restricting movement.
Among the conditions that may benefit from elbow arthroscopy are:
Recovery from an elbow arthroscopy is faster than traditional open surgery, although it may still take several weeks for the elbow joint to recover fully. Depending on the extent of your surgery, you may experience pain for a few weeks afterwards, which can be controlled with painkillers. You may be given specific instructions about using ice and keeping the arm elevated to control swelling. Exercises may be recommended to help to mobilise the joint and prevent stiffness. It is important to follow the recommended rehabilitation plan as this will help you to regain strength and movement in your elbow. In some cases, you may also need to see a physiotherapist. Your consultant will advise you when it is safe for you to return to work and day-to-day activities such as driving.
Elbow arthroscopy is a safe and effective procedure. If you have had a minor repair your elbow may return to full motion and functioning within a few days. However, a more complicated repair can take several months before it is fully healed. Following your personal rehabilitation plan can help to support the healing process and help you to regain use of your elbow faster.