The ends of the humerus and ulna bones, which form the elbow, are replaced with a metal and plastic hinge that goes between them. The ends of the hinge are attached to the bones.

Most elbow replacements are total elbow replacements, but partial elbow replacements are sometimes done.

Anatomy

The elbow is made up of the humerus (upper arm bone), the ulna (the large forearm bone) and the radius (the small forearm bone). Two main ligaments—the ulnar collateral ligament and the lateral collateral ligament—hold the bones of the elbow together. Muscles and tendons support the joint and allow you to bend and straighten your arm.

When is surgery recommended?

Surgery is needed when arthritis causes the cartilage that goes between the bones to disappear. It is also used when there is a bad break of the elbow and the existing pieces of bone are too small to be put into position properly, or when a previous break did not heal well. Finally, if an elbow dislocates frequently and is unstable, a replacement may be able to fix it.

What is the recovery time?

You may stay in the hospital for a few days after surgery. Your doctor will give you instructions on the medications to take to relieve pain, as well as other ways to help with pain such as ice.

After surgery you will probably not be allowed to carry anything or use your arm much while your elbow heals. You will work with a physical therapist to regain strength and normal functioning of your arm.