Elbow arthroscopy is a minimally-invasive surgery used by orthopedic surgeons to inspect, diagnose, and repair problems inside the joint. During elbow arthroscopy, a small camera, called an arthroscope, is inserted into your elbow joint through a small incision. The camera displays images on a monitor, allowing your surgeon to have a clear view of the joint area.
Both the arthroscope and surgical instruments are thin, which makes it possible to use very small incisions, rather than the large incision needed for open surgery. The result is typically less pain and stiffness as well as faster recovery time for the patient.
When is Elbow Arthroscopy a Good Option?
Arthroscopic elbow surgery may be a treatment option for certain types of elbow conditions that have not responded to nonsurgical treatment such as rest, medication, and physical therapy.
Common arthroscopic procedures typically include:
- Removing loose cartilage and bone fragments
- Removing scar tissue to improve range of motion
- Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis
- Treatment of osteoarthritis
- Treatment of tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis)
- Treatment of osteochondritis dissecans, a condition caused by a piece of bone or cartilage cracks and loosens due to loss of blood supply (more common in children and adolescents)
Conditions other than these are often treated more effectively when done as a traditional open procedure.
Procedure and Recovery
Elbow arthroscopy is generally performed under general anesthesia as an outpatient procedure. To reduce the risk of infection after surgery, you will likely be given antibiotics before the surgery takes place.
At the beginning of the procedure, your orthopedic surgeon will fill the elbow joint with a fluid that makes the structures of the elbow easier to see. Greater visibility lessens the risk of injury to surrounding blood vessels and nerves. This fluid will continue to flow through the arthroscope until the procedure is done. Mild elbow swelling is therefore present for several days after surgery.
To restrict movement of the elbow after surgery, your surgeon will give you instructions and may also have you wear a bandage and/or a splint.
Rehabilitation plays an important role in getting back to the basic activities of daily life. The SROSM physical therapy team will create a rehabilitation program that will help you regain elbow motion and strength. Some of these exercises can be done at home while others will be guided by one of our physical therapists at our office in The Woodlands or Spring.
You can learn more about the complexity of the elbow joint by downloading our educational document A Patient’s Guide to Elbow Anatomy. Request an appointment at one of our locations in Spring or The Woodlands if you’re having elbow pain or have been diagnosed with an elbow condition and would like to be evaluated by Dr. William Jackson, our upper extremity orthopedic specialist.