You are here

Introduction: In elbow arthroplasty, or elbow replacement surgery, the damaged bone and cartilage of the elbow are removed and replaced with artificial components. 

Function: To relieve pain as well as to restore and maintain function of the elbow and arm. 

History of Injury: Although some people may need elbow arthroplasty directly after an injury, more often, the procedure is performed on people who are dealing with the effects of rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or chronic instability.

Diagnosis: Your orthopedic surgeon will ask you questions about your general health as well as your elbow and arm pain and how it is impacting your ability to function. He or she will also perform a physical exam to assess the strength, range of motion, and stability of your elbow and arm. To better understand the location and the extent of the damage, you will have X-rays taken of your elbow. 

Treatment: Treatment will depend on the extent of damage to your elbow and where the damage is located. You may only need a partial elbow replacement, but thoroughly discussing your condition and symptoms with your surgeon will ultimately determine the procedure and methods used.

Initial: Before recommending elbow arthroplasty, your orthopedic surgeon may suggest other treatments, such as taking anti-inflammatory medications, steroid injections, or undergoing physical therapy.

Long Term: If nonsurgical treatments are not helpful or no longer relieve pain, elbow arthroplasty could be a good option for you.

Indications for Surgery: If you have rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, chronic instability, or have suffered severe, complex fracturing and your elbow pain is interfering with your daily life, while active or while at rest, you may be a good candidate for elbow arthroplasty. If you have post-traumatic arthritis due to an injury, you may also benefit from elbow arthroplasty.

Surgery: The procedure takes place in a hospital. After you are given anesthesia, your orthopedic surgeon will make an incision at the back of your elbow, moving muscles to the side to prepare the bones for surgery by removing bone spurs and scar tissue. Next, he or she will replace both sides of your joint, the humerus and the ulna, using metal stems that are secured in each bone (the lower humeral and upper ulnar canals). Your surgeon will close your incision, and the incision site will be dressed for protection.

Post-Operation: After surgery, you will be moved to another room, where you will remain for several hours while your recover from your anesthesia. When you wake up, you may be wearing a splint to provide stability to your new elbow. You should only remove the splint and move your arm, wrist, and fingers when your surgeon has cleared you to do so. 

Rehabilitation: Your orthopedic surgeon will provide you with specific instructions about what you can and cannot do while your elbow is healing. You will need to keep the sling on for several weeks after surgery and do exercises and stretching activities consistently, at home or working with a physical therapist, to help your elbow heal properly. You will likely be allowed to start lifting minimal weight with your new elbow after six weeks.

Risks and Complications: As with any surgery, there is a risk of infection or blood clots. You should also carefully follow all of your surgeon’s instructions to avoid reinjuring your elbow. 

Summary: You should seek out an experienced orthopedic surgeon to perform your elbow arthroplasty. This clinician should not only be skilled at performing the surgery but also have the ability to accurately assess the extent of the damage prior to surgery.