Arthroscopic Surgery for Your Elbow

From arthritis to repetitive use injuries or fractures, elbow pain can severely limit your activities. If you’ve tried non-surgical and conservative treatments and still struggle with pain and poor joint mobility, your orthopedist might recommend an elbow arthroscopy.

Compared to traditional open surgery, arthroscopy is less invasive and usually requires less healing and recovery time. Before going through the procedure, it might help to learn more about arthroscopy, the elbow conditions it can heal, and what to expect.

What is Elbow Arthroscopy?

Arthroscopy, or arthroscopic surgery, is a minimally invasive procedure. Surgeons make small incisions, with an instrument called an arthroscope, to see inside the joint. With the interior of the joint on a screen, the surgeon can use very small tools to diagnose a condition or perform a procedure with high precision.

Orthopedic surgeons trained in arthroscopy use this technique to provide patients with a better experience and outcome. They can use it for most joints and for many different types of surgery, including several elbow injuries and conditions.

Which Elbow Conditions Can Be Treated with Arthroscopic Surgery?

Surgeons have developed the arthroscopic technique to the point that they can now use it to treat and correct several elbow conditions and injuries:

  • Tennis Elbow. Also known as lateral epicondylitis, this overuse injury doesn’t only occur in tennis players. It results from inflammation or tearing in the tendons on the outside of the joint. Non-surgical treatment works for many patients, but some need surgery. Tennis elbow arthroscopy is usually an option.
  • Medial Epicondylitis. This is an overuse injury often associated with golfers, but it also commonly occurs in throwing sports, such as baseball. As with tennis elbow, orthopedists often recommend non-surgical treatments first and turn to surgery if necessary.
  • Medial Apophysitis. This occurs in young athletes when a repetitive throwing motion irritates connective tissue and the growth plate in the elbow. Appropriately known as Little Leaguer’s Elbow, surgery is not typically necessary. However, when surgery is necessary, pediatric orthopedists can often perform it arthroscopically.
  • Loose Bodies. This is when small, loose parts of a bone drift in the body. Fragments of bone and cartilage in the elbow joint can cause severe pain and limited joint movement. Surgeons can remove them arthroscopically.
  • Arthritis. No surgery can cure arthritis, but surgeons might use arthroscopy to remove loose pieces of cartilage or bone spurs. Doing so alleviates pressure off the joints to relieve pain and improve mobility.

Arthroscopy is not always an option. Your surgeon will discuss this with you and explain the benefits and risks of the available procedures.

The Benefits of Arthroscopic Procedures for Elbow Conditions

Before the development of arthroscopy, tennis elbow surgery and other common joint procedures were done using an open method. During an open procedure, the surgeon uses large incisions to be able to see and access the joint.

Fortunately, arthroscopy has come a long way. Orthopedic surgeons can now use it to treat most conditions, with benefits for the patient. These include:

  • Smaller incisions and less trauma to healthy tissue
  • Less pain after surgery and less need for pain medications
  • Quicker post-surgery recovery and healing
  • Lower risk of infection

What to Expect When Undergoing Elbow Arthroscopic Surgery

Before you undergo an arthroscopic elbow procedure, your orthopedic surgeon will evaluate your symptoms and examine your elbow joint. They will likely try non-surgical treatments, like rest and physical therapy, before using surgery.

If you decide together on arthroscopic surgery, the surgeon will use diagnostic imaging to plan the procedure. The surgery center will prepare you in advance with instructions regarding food and medications.

On the day of the surgery, the anesthesia staff will administer general anesthesia or a regional nerve blocker. You can decide which option is best by discussing it with the staff and your surgeon. The procedure will take one to a few hours, depending on your specific condition or injury. You can expect to go home the same day.

Arthroscopic Elbow Surgery Recovery

One of the most important benefits of arthroscopic surgery is the quicker healing time compared to open surgery. Your doctor will talk to you about what to expect, how long recovery should take, and how to limit and restart activities.

Recovery time for elbow surgery could be anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Rest and avoiding activities that use the joint are important during this period. Your surgeon will probably prescribe pain medications to use for a short time. They will also recommend rehabilitation and physical therapy.

Our elbow specialists can explain more about this procedure and determine if it is an option for your elbow pain or injury. Contact one of our North Carolina offices or go online to request an appointment.

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