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.
The surfaces of the bones (Humerus, Radius & Ulna) meet to form the elbow joint which are covered with articular cartilage, a smooth substance that protects the bones and acts as a natural cushion to absorb forces across the joint. A thin, smooth tissue called synovial membrane covers all remaining surfaces inside the elbow joint. In a healthy elbow, this membrane makes a small amount of fluid that lubricates the cartilage and eliminates almost any friction as you bend and rotate your arm.
When Elbow Arthroscopy Is Recommended
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 (arthrolysis).
Common arthroscopic procedures include:
- Treatment of tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis)
- Removal of loose bodies (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)
- Treatment of osteochondritis dissecans (activity related damage to the capitellum portion of the humerus seen in throwers or gymnasts)
- Treatment of stiff elbow
Rehabilitation plays an important role in getting you back to your daily activities. An exercise program will help you regain elbow and forearm motion and strength. Your surgeon will develop a rehabilitation plan based on the surgical procedures you required.
In some cases, your doctor will instruct you or a family member with basic exercises to begin at home a few days following surgery. In more advanced surgeries, physical therapy is often prescribed after the first postoperative visit to facilitate motion, strength, and return of function of the elbow. The type and duration of therapy will depend on the type of problem you have and the type of surgery you required.
Return to driving, basic activities of daily living, and return to work will depend on the type of surgery you required and should be discussed with your doctor prior to surgery.