What is elbow arthroscopy?
Elbow arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure to inspect, diagnose and repair problems inside the elbow joint. In this procedure, the surgeon makes several small incisions and uses a small video camera (called an arthroscope) to see inside the joint. Tiny instruments are used to correct the problem.
Arthroscopic surgery has many benefits to patients, including smaller incisions, less muscle and tissue trauma, less post-operative pain and a faster recovery.
Once rare, elbow arthroscopy is now used to treat many complex elbow conditions, including trauma, contracture, stiffness, tendinitis, tennis elbow, removal of loose cartilage and bone fragments, release of scar tissue to improve range of motion, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and osteochondritis dissecans. It is a good alternative to elbow replacement surgery, especially for young active patients.
Arthroscopic surgery of the elbow is challenging because of the joint's anatomy. It's important to consult a surgeon specially trained in this technique to determine the best treatment.
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?
If you have a painful elbow condition that does not respond to conservative measures such as rest, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications or corticosteroid injections, arthroscopic surgery may be an option for you. It's important to consult a qualified orthopedic surgeon to determine the best course of action.
What is the recovery time?
Patients typically begin physical therapy soon after surgery to stretch out the tendons and ligaments in the elbow and restore strength and range of motion. Most people return to light work within several days. If your job requires heavy lifting or throwing, you may be out for several weeks. Full recovery and return to pre-injury athletic activities occurs within three to six weeks for loose body removal and two to three months for elbow spur removal.