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Arthroscopy of the elbow

3-minute read

This page will give you information about an arthroscopy of the elbow. If you have any questions, you should ask your GP or other relevant health professional.

What is an arthroscopy of your elbow?

An arthroscopy (keyhole surgery) is performed to diagnose and treat problems in your elbow joint. It involves examining the inside of the joint using a telescope inserted through small cuts on your skin.

What are the benefits of surgery?

The aim is to confirm exactly what the problem is and for many people the problem can be treated at the same time.

Are there any alternatives to surgery?

Problems inside a joint can often be diagnosed using tests such as CT scans and MRI scans. However, they do not show early damage to the surface of joints, damage to small ligaments or how bad any damage is, and you may then need an arthroscopy to treat the problem.

Illustration of an arthroscopy of the elbow.
An arthroscopy of the elbow.

What does the operation involve?

The operation is usually performed under a general anaesthetic but sometimes a nerve block is used, where local anaesthetics and other painkillers are injected near the major nerves to your arm.

The operation usually takes about 30 minutes.

Your surgeon will usually make about two to four small cuts, about half a centimetre long, around the joint. They will insert a small telescope through one of the cuts so they can examine the joint. They will insert surgical instruments through the other cuts if they need to treat any problems with the joint.

What complications can happen?

Some complications can be serious and can even cause death.

General complications of any operation

  • pain
  • bleeding
  • infection of the surgical site (wound)
  • unsightly scarring of your skin

Specific complications of this operation

  • bleeding into the joint
  • infection in your elbow joint
  • severe pain, stiffness and loss of use of your arm and hand
  • damage to nerves around the joint
  • damage to the radial nerve

How soon will I recover?

You should be able to go home the same day.

The physiotherapist may give you exercises and advice to help you to recover from the operation.

It can take a few weeks to get back to normal activities.

Regular exercise should help you to return to normal activities as soon as possible. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.

Most people have a major improvement but it takes time for pain to lessen and movement to increase. Symptoms often come back with time.

Summary

An arthroscopy of your elbow allows your surgeon to diagnose and treat problems affecting the joint, without the need for a large cut on your skin. This may reduce the amount of pain you feel and speed up your recovery.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION

The operation and treatment information on this page is published under license by Healthdirect Australia from EIDO Healthcare Australia and is protected by copyright laws. Other than for your personal, non-commercial use, you may not copy, print out, download or otherwise reproduce any of the information. The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you. Medical Illustration Copyright © Medical-Artist.com.

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Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2020


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