Elbow arthroscopy

What is an elbow arthroscopy?

Elbow arthroscopy is better known as "keyhole surgery" and allows your surgeon to look inside your elbow through a camera inserted through a small cut in the skin. This allows a diagnosis and treatment of any problems using special designed surgical instruments - often at the same time.

What does elbow arthroscopy involve?

Elbow arthroscopy is usually done as a day case under general anaesthetic and takes around thirty minutes.

Your surgeon will use a small frame to support your arm and will inject fluid into the joint to help them perform the operation. You will usually have a tourniquet (tight strap) around your arm to reduce the risk of bleeding.

Your surgeon will usually make two to four small cuts about half a centimetre long around the elbow. A small camera will be inserted through one or more of the cuts and examine the inside of your elbow. Your surgeon should be able to treat any problems without needing to make a larger cut and close the skin with stitches or sticky strips.

Elbow arthroscopy recovery time

As you are admitted as a day case, you would normally be able to go home on the same day. During your elbow surgery recovery time, you will have a bandage on your elbow for two to three days, and it is common for the elbow to feel slightly swollen for a few weeks. You may need painkillers and your physiotherapist will give you some exercises to help you get back to normal living. You may need to take a week off work and driving.

What risks should I know about?

An elbow arthroscopy is a commonly performed and generally safe procedure but there are some potential complications you should be aware of.  These affect a very small percentage of patients.

  • Infection can occur although our theatres have ultra-clean air operating conditions keeping infection rates to the minimum.
  • Blood clots are possible after any operation and are more common in patients with some pre-existing medical conditions. However, again they affect a very small percentage of patients and have well established treatments including aspirin.
  • Very rarely, damage to the nerves around the elbow leading to numbness, pain and in some cases weakness in the forearm and hand - this usually settles on its own. 
  • The elbow arthroscopy may fail/ not give rise to the intended benefits of reduced pain and increased mobility in the elbow

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