Elbow Surgery: What to expect

The elbow is a complex joint that allows a wide arc of motion. Elbow problems tend to highlight just how important the elbow can be. Tasks that were easy before, such as working or driving, become nearly impossible for those with elbow pathology.

The elbow connects the radius and ulna to the humerus, which is a fairly large bone on its own. Furthermore, the elbow connects these parts through a system of ligaments and muscles. Precisely because of the elbow’s size, complexity, and location, it can alter our range of motion immensely.

Elbow injuries

Elbow is one of the most frequently used joints in the human body. Inherently, this means that the elbow is prone to injuries, such as fractures and hyperextension injury. There are many conditions associated with the elbow such as

  • Tennis Elbow
  • Fractures around the elbow
  • Bursitis
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Osteochondritis Dissecans

Lateral epicondylitis, otherwise known as tennis elbow, occurs when the origin of the muscles near the elbow become overworked. Usually, this happens through repetitive motions of the wrist and arm. The condition is painful and, unlike the name suggests, is not exclusive to athletes. Any job that features repetitive motions, such as plumbing or carpentry, may cause the condition. Tennis elbow patients often describe the pain as “radiating.” People with tennis elbow tend to have a hard time shaking hands, turning doorknobs, or grasping objects.

Tennis elbow may be treated conservatively, but sometimes surgical treatments are necessary for certain cases. Surgical procedures that your doctor may use to treat tennis elbow are as follows: Injections for tennis elbow, Ultrasonic Tenotomy.

Certain medical conditions may increase the risk of a fracture around the elbow. For example, osteoporosis increases the risk of fracture in many older adults. Not everyone with a fractured elbow needs surgery. If possible, your doctor will treat your elbow fracture with more conservative treatments, like pain medicine, splints, and slings.

However, in certain patients, surgery may be needed. Surgery typically involves exposing the fractured bone, reducing it into the correct position and fixing it with implants like plates and/or screws. This procedure is also known as Open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF).

If you fracture the bones around your elbow, you might need ORIF to bring your bones back into place and help them heal. During an open reduction, orthopedic surgeons reposition your bone pieces during surgery, so they are back in their proper alignment. In a closed reduction, a doctor physically moves the bones back into place without surgically exposing the bone.

Internal fixation refers to the method of physically reconnecting the bones. This might involve special screws, plates, wires, or nails that the surgeon places inside the bones to fix them in the correct place. This prevents the bones from healing abnormally. The entire operation usually takes place while you are asleep under general anesthesia.

Elbow bursitis is a painful condition that involves inflammation of the bursae. Bursae are small, fluid-filled sacs that cushion the bones, tendons, and muscles near the body’s joints. When these sacs become inflamed, doctors call the condition bursitis. Not all cases of elbow bursitis require surgery. In fact, most of the time, these inflamed sacs will get better on their own.

There are more severe instances in which a doctor must surgically drain the inflamed sac. In the most severe cases, it may even be necessary to remove the affected bursa altogether. This, however, is exceptionally rare.

If conservative treatments have not alleviated the patient’s symptoms, your doctor will perform surgery.

RA is one of the most common types of elbow arthritis, but it is fundamentally different than most types of arthritis. Conventionally, arthritis affects the joints over time through age-related wear and tear, but RA is a little different. Medical experts classify RA as an autoimmune disorder because the condition confuses the immune system into attacking the body’s own tissues. Unlike wear and tear arthritis, RA is known to affect the joint linings, which causes painful swelling. Additionally, this may result in joint abnormalities and bone erosion.

If nonsurgical treatments (such as physical therapy/ physiotherapy) fail to alleviate your symptoms or slow RA progression, then your doctor may consider surgery. Surgery often helps RA patients, making their symptoms much more bearable. Additionally, RA surgery may even restore the patient’s ability to use their joints normally.

Rheumatoid Arthritis surgeries include: Synovectomy, Tendon Repair, Joint Fusion, Total Joint Replacement

OD occurs when the bone beneath the cartilage of a joint dies because of a lack of blood supply. When this happens, the bone and cartilage may break away, leading to pain and decreased motion and strength.

Most commonly, OD occurs in children and teenagers. The condition usually affects the knee, but it can also occur in the ankles and elbows, as well as in other areas. Symptoms of OD usually appear after a joint injury or several months of high-impact activities. There are different levels of OD and they all depend on the size of the injury. Additionally, medical experts must consider the nature of the fragment. This includes whether the fragment detaches partially, wholly, or remains in place.

For young children, OD may heal all by itself as the bones are still growing and maturing. Other cases, however, will require surgery. OD usually necessitates surgery when there is a loose fragment in the joint. Additionally, the doctor may consider surgery if your OD is still present, and your bones have stopped growing. In other cases, your doctor may consider surgery if conservative treatments have not worked for you over a period of 6-12 months.

What Are the Risks of Elbow Surgery?

Every surgical procedure has some risks and benefits. Your individual results will depend on your personal circumstances, and recovery takes time. While there can be no guarantee of success, benefits can include pain relief and return of limited use of the elbow.

Each of the following reactions or complications can occur during and after surgery and may require medical attention, such as further surgery and implant removal. They are Infections, Osteolysis, Implant fracture, Elbow replacement surgery is not appropriate.

The complication rate following surgery around is elbow is low. Serious complications, such as elbow-joint infection, occur in as few as 5% of patients. Major medical complications, such as heart attack or stroke, occur even less frequently. Of course, chronic illnesses may increase the potential for complications.

What to expect after an Elbow Surgery?

Rehab begins quickly. Your arm will be in a splint and it may be wrapped in an ice pack to help control pain and swelling. You’ll continue to receive pain medication as needed. You may need to keep your elbow immobilized for 2 to 4 weeks. You can expect the pain to go away in 3 to 6 months and you should have good movement in your elbow. You may need to do strength exercises. You will be able to return to daily activities in about 4 to 6 weeks. You can go back to work in 3 to 12 weeks, depending on your job. To support your recovery, you can expect to wear a brace, splint, or sling. These immobilizing options allow for swelling in the area and some arm movement. However, a cast is recommended for greater support.