Elbow arthroscopy surgery is a less invasive, more commonly used medical procedure used for treatment of elbow joint injuries. It involves uses a small camera (about the size of a pencil) to examine the elbow, diagnose the issue, and then remove or repair the damaged tissues as needed.
Unlike a full joint operation, elbow arthroscopy is performed through a small incision into the joint. During this procedure, the orthopedic surgeon can fix several elbow-related problems, such as tennis elbow, removal of loose bodies (pieces of cartilage or bone), treatment of osteoarthritis, treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, and release of scar tissue to improve range of motion. It is almost always performed on an outpatient basis, and anesthesia can be local, regional, or general depending on the exact procedure being performed. Sometimes, a combination of both open incision and arthroscopic procedures can be performed together.
Who is a candidate?
Candidates have painful elbow conditions that do not respond to nonsurgical treatment such as rest, physical therapy, and medications or injections that reduce inflammation. Typically, injury, overuse and age-related wear and tear are responsible for most shoulder problems.Patients with certain conditions are candidates for elbow arthroscopy include:
- Elbow arthritis (either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis)
- Tennis elbow, or laterla epicondylitis
- Removal of loose bodies
- Release of scar tissue to improve range of motion
- Osteochondritis dissecans (damage to humerus bone from certain sports)
Who is not a candidate?
Candidates who have not yet exhausted nonsurgical treatment options or who are suffering from an active elbow infection are generally not good candidates for elbow arthroscopy. For more severe shoulder conditions, an open shoulder surgery may be a better fit. Some surgeries to treat some elbow conditions are better performed using an open incision include treatment of golfer’s elbow, replacement of the elbow joint, and decompression of the ulnar nerve.
Like other surgeries, elbow arthroscopy requires a complete physical examination with your primary care provider before surgery. You should inform your orthopedic surgeon of any medications or supplements you take, and comply with certain general surgery procedures such as preoperative blood testing and possible cessation of smoking or use of pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs one week prior. You will likely be asked to stop eating or drinking the night before the surgery.
You will be able to recover from elbow arthroscopy faster than you would for traditional joint surgery. Immediately after your procedure, your doctor will prescribe pain relief medication and possibly, a blood thinner (to lessen the risk of blood clots), and will go home the day of the surgery in most instances. In the first few days after surgery, keep your elbow elevated and apply ice to relieve swelling and prevent further inflammation. Ensure your incisions are kept clean and dry, and follow your surgeon’s instructions in regards to bathing, changing the dressing, and follow-up visits.
You will be encouraged to move your fingers and wrist frequently to stimulate circulation and minimize swelling. Depending on what exact arthroscopic surgery has been performed, recovery time will vary.
As with any surgery, there are risks of complications related to bleeding, blood clots, infection or adverse reactions to anesthesia. Other known complications include nerve irritation/injury. Studies have shown that elbow arthroscopy has a slightly higher risk of infection and nerve injury in comparison to knee or shoulder arthroscopy.
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