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Elbow Arthroscopy

Arthroscopy is a procedure that orthopaedic surgeons use to inspect, diagnose, and repair problems inside a joint.

The procedure is performed under general or regional anesthesia. During elbow arthroscopy, your surgeon inserts a small camera, called an arthroscope, into your elbow joint. The camera displays pictures on a television screen, and your surgeon uses these images to guide miniature surgical instruments.

Because the arthroscope and surgical instruments are thin, your surgeon can use very small incisions (cuts), rather than the larger incision needed for open surgery. This results in less pain for patients, less joint stiffness, and often shortens the time it takes to recover and return to favorite activities.

Elbow arthroscopy has been performed since the 1980s. It has made diagnosis, treatment, and recovery from surgery easier and faster than was once thought possible. Improvements to elbow arthroscopy occur every year as new instruments and techniques are developed.

When Elbow Arthroscopy Is Recommended

The role of elbow arthroscopy in the treatment of elbow disorders has been dramatically increasing over the past few years.
Your doctor may recommend elbow arthroscopy if you have a painful condition that does not respond to nonsurgical treatment. Nonsurgical treatment includes rest, physical therapy, and medications or injections that can reduce inflammation. Inflammation is one of your body’s normal reactions to injury or disease. In an injured or diseased elbow joint, inflammation causes swelling, pain, and stiffness.

Injury, overuse, and age-related wear and tear are responsible for most elbow problems. Elbow arthroscopy may relieve painful symptoms of many problems that damage the cartilage surfaces and other soft tissues surrounding the joint. Elbow arthroscopy may also be recommended to remove loose pieces of bone and cartilage, or release scar tissue that is blocking motion.

Common arthroscopic procedures include:

  • Treatment of tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis)
  • Removal of loose bodies in the joint (loose cartilage and bone fragments)
  • Release of scar tissue to improve range of motion
  • Treatment of osteoarthritis (wear and tear arthritis)
  • Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (inflammatory arthritis)

After elbow arthroscopy

After your arthroscopy, you may be placed into an elbow splint that allows full mobility of your hand. The period of immobilization will vary depending on what was performed at the time of surgery. Elevating the involved extremity is important to prevent excessive swelling and pain after your surgery. Certain conditions require that you begin therapy right away, and others may not require it at all. Often elbow arthroscopy is done as an ambulatory procedure, allowing the patient to go home the same day, but occasionally, depending on the condition, a hospital stay may be needed.

Advantages of arthroscopy are it requires smaller incisions, minimal soft tissue trauma, less pain, faster recovery time, low infection rate, less scarring, earlier mobilization, and allows patient to restore to normal activities faster.