Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgical technique that involves making several small incisions and inserting a fiber-optic device (arthroscope) and tiny surgical instruments to diagnose or treat certain conditions. It is connected to a camera that displays images of the internal structure of the elbow on a computer screen. The arthroscope allows the surgeon to precisely identify and target joint abnormalities. Orthopedic surgeons may perform an elbow arthroscopy to diagnose and treat several different conditions that involve the elbow. With this type of procedure, patients benefit from less tissue damage, shorter recovery times, less scarring and less post-operative pain than traditional open procedures. The use of this technique also avoids cutting any muscles or tendons in order to gain access to the affected area. Arthroscopy can be an ideal treatment option for many patients suffering from elbow conditions.
Elbow Arthroscopy Candidates
Elbow arthroscopy is performed after a physical examination and other tests have confirmed the patient has a diagnosis that can be treated via an arthroscopic procedure. There may be several problems that can be addressed during the same procedure via small arthroscopic incisions. Elbow arthroscopy may be used to treat the following conditions:
- Early Elbow Arthritis
- Elbow Contractures
- Loose Body Removal
- Tennis Elbow
- Osteochondritis Dissecans
- Early Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Reduction and Fixation of Select Fractures
- Arthroscopy provides the benefits of smaller incisions, less trauma to soft tissues, less pain and quicker recovery than open procedures.
The Elbow Arthroscopy Procedure
The elbow arthroscopy procedure is performed while the patient is sedated under general anesthesia, and is usually performed on an outpatient basis. In some cases, the patient will receive a nerve block before surgery that will help with pain control and keep the arm numb for 18-24 hours. During the procedure, the surgeon will insert the arthroscope and surgical instruments into the joint via small incisions in order to thoroughly examine the cartilage, bones, tendons, and ligaments within the joint. Any damaged areas may be repaired during the same procedure by making several other small incisions through which surgical instruments are inserted. The procedure performed will depend on the patient’s individual condition, but may include removing inflamed tissue, removing bone spurs, removing loose bodies or replacing/repairing damaged cartilage. Once the procedure is completed, the incisions will be closed with stitches and a dressing will be applied to the area. After some arthroscopic elbow procedures, the patient will be placed in a splint for a period of time that is determined by what was done in the operating room.
Recovery from Elbow Arthroscopy
You can anticipate that your surgery will last approximately 1 1⁄2 to 2 1⁄2 hours, although this varies depending on the type of elbow arthroscopy procedure which is performed. Once some of the anesthesia has worn off and you are comfortable, family members will be invited to sit with you while you continue recovering from anesthesia. You will have a dressing or a hard splint on your elbow and your arm will be immobilized in a sling initially. Many patients are able to return to work or school within 1-2 weeks following surgery. Patients can anticipate 80 – 90% recovery within 3 – 6 months depending on the specific procedures performed. Some patients will even continue to see improvements up to 1 year out from surgery. Also, the majority of patients will spend some period of time working with a physical therapist to aid in their recovery.
Risks of Elbow Arthroscopy
While elbow arthroscopy is considered a safe and minimally invasive surgery, there are still some risks that are associated with this procedure:
- Nerve or Vessel Injury
- Failure of the Repair
- Blood Clots