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What Are The Risks Of Elbow Replacement Surgery?

Undergoing any surgical procedure comes with potential risks and complications. If you’re considering an elbow replacement, here are a few things to know.

Elbow replacement surgery has been around for years. Many people who suffer from severe elbow pain or arthritis find relief and restored motion through elbow replacement. However, every surgical procedure can have risks and complications. Your individual results will depend on your personal circumstances, and recovery takes time.

There are many potential complications associated with elbow replacement surgery. Though complications are usually rare, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks. The following list is not intended to be all-encompassing, but highlights some complications that can occur. Each of the following reactions or complications can occur during or after surgery and may require medical attention (such as further surgery) and/or implant removal.

Reaction to anesthesia

Your anesthesiologist is a specialist in giving the medications that will help relax you and manage your pain during and after surgery. You will meet with your anesthesiologist before your hospital admission or surgical procedure to determine the type of anesthetic that is most appropriate for you. Usually you will have a medical check-up/pre-operative visit to ensure that your health is as good as it can be to minimize your surgical and anesthesia risks. Strictly follow your doctor’s guidelines regarding food and drink before surgery. The more common side effects related to anesthesia include nausea, vomiting, and headaches (all of which can usually be relieved with medication).


Surgical incision sites and/or bone and tissue around the elbow implants can become infected, which can delay recovery and even require additional surgery to remove and/or replace the implants. Talk to your surgeon about the potential risks and complications of infection. Ask your doctor of signs you should monitor which could indicate infection.

Also, follow the instructions regarding wound care and dressings to minimize infection risk After your elbow replacement, your doctor may require you to take preventive antibiotics before dental or surgical procedures that could allow bacteria to enter your bloodstream. Before any procedure, speak with your surgeon and your dentist to see if you need preventive antibiotics.

Damage to nearby blood vessels, bones or nerves

To help minimize damage that may occur to blood vessels, bones and nerves in and around the incision, surgeons use precision tools, guides and highly refined surgical techniques. Nerve damage, although rare, can cause irritation, pain, and loss of sensation or function following your surgery. Usually, this problem will resolve, but it can take considerable time to occur.

Persistent pain

There is no guarantee that elbow replacement will make you pain-free.

Loosening, wear or breakage of the artificial elbow Implant

The goal of elbow replacement is to reduce pain and restore function. However, elbow implants can loosen, parts can wear and rarely, a device does break. Such occurrences are typically accompanied by pain and/or loss of function, and may require additional surgery.

Other risks

  • Removal and/or replacement of the device system or its components may be necessary at some point in the future due to general wearing out (wear).
  • Dislocation or the joints slipping apart can occur.
  • Implants can loosen over time or, less commonly, with a specific injury.

When elbow replacement surgery may not be appropriate

Consult your doctor but, given the risks, they may decide that elbow replacement surgery is not appropriate if:

  • You have an infection or a history of infection
  • You don't have enough bone or the bone is not strong enough to support your new elbow
  • You have injured nerves in your elbow area
  • You have injured or nonfunctional elbow muscles
  • Your elbow is severely unstable
  • Your bones are not fully grown or developed
  • You have noticeable bone loss or a severe decrease in bone mass (osteoporosis)
  • Your elbow joint has been previously fused and is stable, functional, and painless
  • You have active/history of skin lesions (because of increased risk of infection)
  • Your requirements for the elbow are too much for a replacement to handle
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This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Timothy Codd, paid Zimmer Biomet consultant.

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