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Elbow Pain Relief - Surgical Treatment Options

If conservative treatments aren’t helping your elbow pain, your doctor may suggest surgical options. Here are a few common treatments you may hear about.

When your pain associated with elbow arthritis continues despite trying non-operative treatments, it may be time to consider surgical options. There are several surgical options available, based on the underlying problem with your elbow, to help with pain relief and restoration of function. Speak with your surgeon on the options that may be helpful to you.

There have been advancements in elbow replacement surgery as instrumentation, implants, and anesthesia techniques continue to evolve. But, as with any surgical procedure, there are possible risks and complications. You can read more about associated risks with elbow replacement surgery by clicking here. You can also discuss these with your surgeon as well.

The surgical treatment options for elbow arthritis can be divided into replacement surgery and non-replacement surgery.  Below are a few of these common surgical procedures for patients with severe pain from elbow arthritis.

Arthroscopy

Often the first surgical treatment for elbow osteoarthritis is an arthroscopy, a procedure used to see, diagnose, and treat problems inside the joint. Arthroscopy typically involves inserting a small camera into the elbow and then treating identifiable problems. Some of the more common procedures performed during arthroscopy include:

  • Trimming damaged cartilage and bone spurs to relieve mechanical symptoms
  • Cleaning out joint inflammatory tissue (synovitis)
  • Removing loose bodies within the elbow
  • Irrigating the inside of the elbow
  • Releasing the capsule of the elbow to improve motion

Interposition arthroplasty

Arthritis can cause the cartilage in your elbow to wear out and become severely painful. One surgery that does not involve replacing the joint with metal and plastic implants is an interposition arthroplasty.  During this surgery, the surgeon cleans out the damaged bone and cartilage and then implants a soft tissue graft to cushion the space between the bones. This interposition is typically helpful at delaying an elbow replacement by relieving pain. If the pain returns, this surgery does not prevent the use of an elbow replacement in the future.  

Total elbow replacement

During elbow replacement surgery, the bone surfaces and cartilage that have been damaged from arthritis are removed and replaced with metal and medical-grade plastic implants. One implant fits into the humerus (upper arm) bone and another implant fits into the ulna (forearm) bone. The two implants are then connected and held together by a strong locking pin. The resulting hinge is what allows the elbow to bend. This procedure is intended to give you restored motion and reduce the painful bone-on-bone contact.

Risks of joint replacement

There are risks of elbow replacement surgery including, but not limited, to infection, wear, implant or bone fracture, loosening, nerve damage, and instability. Some patients continue to experience some pain after elbow replacement. Individual results will vary. Your results will depend on your personal circumstances. How long a elbow replacement will last varies from patient to patient. It depends on many factors, such as the patient’s physical condition, activity level, and how well you follow doctor’s orders. Replacement joints are not as strong or durable as natural, healthy joints, and there is no guarantee that a prosthetic joint will last the rest of a patient’s life. An elbow replacement may need to be replaced at some point. Talk to your surgeon about these and other risks associated with joint replacement.  To learn the risks of elbow replacement surgery, click here. 

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References
This article was reviewed by Dr. Seth Gamradt, paid Zimmer Biomet consultant.