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a woman holding her elbow.

Elbow Joint Replacement

GENERAL INFORMATION

Elbow joint replacement, or elbow arthroplasty surgery can help relieve chronic pain in the elbow and restore motion to the elbow by replacing the damaged joint with an artificial one. To help educate patients who may need elbow joint arthroplasty, we will detail the procedure and discuss the reasons why someone may be recommended for their elbow joint to be replaced.

What is Elbow Replacement Surgery?

Total elbow arthroplasty, or elbow joint replacement surgery, is a procedure where an orthopaedic surgeon replaces the elbow joint with an artificial joint known as a prosthesis. The procedure doesn’t always require the entire elbow, in some versions of the surgery only a part of the joint is removed.

The elbow joint replacement surgery is aimed at improving the overall quality of life, helping a person return to activities without pain, and restoring the range of motion lost by the condition that caused the need for the joint replacement surgery.

Why Elbow Joint Replacement Surgery is Needed

The elbow joint may need a replacement for several reasons:

  • A bone tumor
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • An injury to the elbow, such as a broken or cracked bone within it. 
  • Posttraumatic Arthritis
  • Instability from the ligaments that hold the elbow joint together

Any of these conditions can cause the cartilage that gives the three bones that the elbow joint connects, the humerus, ulna, and radius, to rub against each other incorrectly and give chronic pain, swelling, and joint stiffness. 

Elbow Replacement Surgery Outline

Prior to the surgery, your doctor or the surgeon will ask about medications that could cause extra bleeding, such as:

  • Blood thinners
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or aspirin
  • Arthritis medications

They will also evaluate your general health to ensure you’re able to go through with the elbow joint surgery. They will also review your symptoms with you and order an X-ray to see the amount of damage and to take note of anything that was previously unknown. 

Elbow Joint Replacement Surgery

On the day of the surgery, the medical team will discuss anesthesia and a nerve block for post-surgical recovery. The entire procedure takes no more than two hours. The type of artificial elbow joint will depend on the reason you’re undergoing the procedure, there are two choices for the type of prosthesis:

  1. Linked joint: A hinge that connects metal stems implanted into the ends of both the humerus and ulna bones.
  2. Unlinked joint: The joint tissue will connect the metal stems in the ulna humerus instead of an implanted hinge. 

The surgery itself has several steps:

  1. An incision is made at the back of the elbow
  2. the muscles are gently moved aside so the surgeon can access the bone
  3. Any scar tissue is removed, as well as the spurs around the joint.
  4. The surgeon prepares the humerus and the ulna to fit the implant
  5. The artificial stems are placed into the humerus and ulna bones and kept in place using bone cement before being connected by a hinge pin if the linked method is chosen. If the unlinked method was used, the ligaments are connected. 
  6. The incision is closed before bandaged
  7. The surgeon may place a temporary drainage tube so the surgical fluid can empty out. If one is placed, it’s removed a few days after the surgery.

During recovery, you will need to keep your arm elevated as much as possible for several days post-surgery. The doctor will give you pain management medication and instruct you to learn gentle exercises to help the elbow heal and improve mobility. These exercises may be shared via physical therapy or ones you can do yourself. 

At Proliance Puget Sound Orthopaedics, we provide best-in-class orthopedic care to our community with compassion, caring, and dedicated expertise for shoulder arthroplasty. If you’re suffering from any of the symptoms listed previously or need treatment for joint pain, we encourage you to call (253) 830 – 5200 or request an appointment online to see one of our physicians. 

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