This page will give you information about a total elbow replacement. If you have any questions, you should ask your GP or other relevant health professional.
You can also download and print a PDF version of this factsheet, with space for your own questions or notes.
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a group of conditions that causes damage to one or more joints.
The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, where there is gradual wear and tear of a joint. Some other types of arthritis are associated with inflammation of the joints.
Arthritis eventually wears away the normal cartilage covering the surface of the joint and the bone underneath becomes damaged. This causes pain and stiffness in the joint.
What are the benefits of surgery?
You should get less pain and be able to move your arm more easily.
Are there any alternatives to a total elbow replacement?
Simple painkillers such as paracetamol and anti-inflammatory painkillers such as ibuprofen can help control the pain of arthritis. Supplements to your diet may also help relieve your symptoms. Check with your doctor before you take supplements.
Regular moderate exercise can help to reduce stiffness in your elbow.
A steroid injection into your elbow joint can sometimes reduce pain and stiffness.
Sometimes it is possible to have a smaller operation to remove inflamed tissue.
All these measures become less effective if your arthritis gets worse.
What does the operation involve?
Various anaesthetic techniques are possible. The operation usually takes 1 to 2 hours.
Your surgeon will make a cut on the back of your elbow and remove the damaged joint surfaces. They will replace these with an artificial elbow made with metal, plastic or ceramic, or a combination of these materials. Your elbow replacement is fixed into the bone using acrylic cement.
What complications can happen?
- infection of the surgical site (wound)
- unsightly scarring
- blood clots
- chest infection
- heart attack
- damage to nerves
- severe pain, stiffness and loss of use of your hand (complex regional pain syndrome)
How soon will I recover?
You should be able to go home after 2 to 5 days.
You will need to use a support for your elbow for 6 weeks.
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 make a good recovery, have less pain, and can move their elbow better. An artificial elbow never feels quite the same as a normal elbow. It is unlikely that you will be able to fully straighten your elbow.
An elbow replacement can wear out with time.
An elbow replacement is usually suitable for people who have arthritis. If you have severe pain, stiffness and disability, an elbow replacement should reduce your pain and help you to move your arm more easily.
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.
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Last reviewed: September 2018