Elbow Replacement, or Total Elbow Arthroplasty, is a treatment option for arthritis of the elbow. This procedure can also be used to treat certain patients with severe elbow fractures.
Elbow Joint Anatomy
The elbow is made up of two joints and three bones. The radius and ulna are the two bones that make up the forearm and the humerus is the bone of the upper arm. The ulna and humerus joint, or ulnohumeral joint, allows the elbow to bend and straighten. The radius and humerus joint allows the forearm to rotate and place your palm up or down.
My elbow hurts, do I need an elbow replacement?
Most elbow pain is not from arthritis. It is much more common to have tendinitis and other injuries that can be treated without an elbow replacement. Arthritis can cause stiffness in the elbow as well as pain. This pain is usually worse when trying to fully straighten or bend the elbow. If severe arthritis is the cause of the pain, non-surgical treatment options can be very effective. These include anti-inflammatories, therapy, and injections. If this does not help or stops working, elbow replacement may be needed.
About Elbow Replacement Surgery
Elbow replacement is a complex procedure that involves removing the ends of the joint that have arthritis. A new joint is attached to each end of the elbow. One end is placed into the humerus, and one into the ulna. These ends are then connected by a hinge that allows the new elbow to bend.
What’s it really like?
Surgery is performed as an inpatient procedure and you will remain in the hospital for a couple of days to begin the recovery process. At the beginning of surgery an anesthesiologist will perform a block, or numbing injection, that will greatly reduce the pain for the first 12-36 hours.
Following the surgery, your arm will be placed in a splint that will immobilize your elbow. Depending on several variables, this will be removed and you will start moving your elbow within 1 week of the procedure. Sutures or staples will be removed in clinic after 2 to 3 weeks.
For most patients, a home exercise program is all that is needed. Occcasionally, a physical therapist will be needed to help with regaining motion and strength after the surgery. The first 6 weeks will focus on regaining motion. After the first 6 weeks, gentle strengthening will be started.
Resuming daily activities with the elbow can begin 2 – 6 weeks after surgery. With all elbow replacements, there is a 5 pound lifetime lifting restriction. This is to protect the new elbow and keep it from wearing out.
Elbow replacement surgery is complex and should be performed by a specialist trained in elbow surgery. It is important that patients understand the procedure, it’s risks, the recovery process, and expected outcomes. In the right patient, elbow replacement can be an effective treatment to relieve the pain of severe arthritis.