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Elbow arthroscopy

Elbow arthroscopy is a common surgical procedure used to investigate and treat elbow conditions.   

Elbow arthroscopy

Elbow arthroscopy is a common surgical procedure used to investigate and treat elbow conditions.   

female volleyballer jumping up at the net to spike a volleyball without the need for an elbow arthroscopy procedure

What is elbow arthroscopy?

Elbow arthroscopy is a surgical treatment for a range of chronic and recurring elbow conditions. The procedure allows examination and surgical treatment of the inside of the joint. Individuals who suffer from elbow conditions caused by repetitive motions with their arms and shoulders are amongst those most likely to need arthroscopic surgery. 

There are at least seven different types of elbow disorders that may require elbow arthroscopy including:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Golfer’s elbow
  • Tennis elbow
  • Olecranon bursitis
  • loose bone fragments or cartilage
  • Dislocation or fracture

While each of these conditions may present marginally different symptoms, pain during elbow movement is common. However, the pain may also be indicative of restrictive scar tissue after a previous surgery. If this is the case, a less invasive type of surgery to remove excess tissue may be sufficient.

An elbow arthroscopy may be required for a number of different conditions, including tennis elbow, osteoarthritis, fractures, and issues with excess scar tissue, amongst others. Before recommending this surgery, your doctor will conduct a physical examination of your elbow and check your medical history. They may also order X-rays to check the condition of your bones along with CT or MRI scans to detect any other potential causes of pain.

There are both surgical and non-surgical treatment options when it comes to treating elbow problems. Non-surgical methods can sufficiently treat and managing pain. Physiotherapy, exercises, massage, acupuncture, elbow tape or bracing, and anti-inflammatory medication are often exhausted prior to surgical methods. Surgery is generally recommended if non-surgical treatments have been tried and are unable to reduce the pain and allow the patient to return to normal activities.  

Elbow arthroscopy generally delivers strong success rates for elbow conditions. Given early arthroscopic intervention, even elite athletes with chronic elbow conditions can regain full pain-free motion in the elbow post-surgery. In some cases, lifestyle modification may increase the likelihood of a lasting positive outcome – for example, if you have a physical job that requires extensive use of the arms. Ultimately, your results post-surgery or after a physical therapy program ultimately depend on your commitment to rehabilitative exercises as much as the procedure itself. 

Whilst the majority of people who undergo elbow surgery do well and are very happy with their results, there are risks which are specific to elbow surgery in addition to the general risks of surgery. This includes deep infection, injury to the nerves tendons or blood vessels close to the surgical field which may require further surgery, stiffness or loss of motion, developing abnormal bone formation such as heterotopic ossification or myositis ossificans, ongoing pain, instability, fracture of the bones and abnormal pain responses such as Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS).

Most of these risks are low and less than 5% but stiffness is not uncommon but usually resolves with time with physiotherapy. It is important to be aware of these risks before consenting to surgery. There are also risks relating to the specific type of elbow surgery that you are having, which Dr Cheriachan will discuss with you in detail during your consultation.

Rehabilitative exercises are key to regaining strength and motion in your elbow, particularly in the first few weeks and months after surgery. During this time, your doctor or physiotherapist will recommend range of motion exercises for your arm and elbow, as well as wrist and hand exercises to maintain healthy circulation. Range of motion exercises are particularly important to prevent stiffness in your arm. Your doctor will also tell you when it is safe for you to resume daily activities like driving and working.

Preparing for your visit

Dr Cheriachan consults from Norwest on Wednesdays and Blacktown on Mondays and Thursdays.

Your first visit will be used to carefully assess your condition as well as gathering all related health information. It is important that you bring all relevant documents including scans and x-rays. We also ask that you wear clothing that allows freedom of movement as your visit will include a physical examination. 

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