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Elbow replacement

An elbow replacement surgery is used to repair elbow injury resulting from trauma or age and use related wear and tear.  

Elbow replacement

An elbow replacement surgery is used to repair elbow injury resulting from trauma or age and use related wear and tear.  

male clinician in blue medical scrubs helping male patient in white shirt complete resistance training during elbow replacement rehabilitation

What is an elbow replacement?

An elbow replacement is a surgical procedure that involves removing part of the elbow joint and replacing it with an artificial joint made either metal, plastic or ceramic materials. This procedure is common amongst people who suffer from various types of arthritis. Common causes include the autoimmune disorders such rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and a subcategory of osteoarthritis called post-traumatic arthritis that affects people who have suffered physical traumas.

Localised pain is the most obvious symptom of any severe elbow condition, and is often directly linked to the onset of other symptoms. You may notice swelling, locking, or stiffness in your elbow joints, or feel pain when bending or straightening your arms. Swelling in particular is a common symptom of infection, which can also lead to tenderness, warmth, and redness in the skin, similar to a fever. In some cases, these symptoms may be exacerbated by weather conditions, or they may be followed by unexplained periods of relief.

The process of diagnosing an elbow condition that necessitates full replacement is quite hands on. Your surgeon will ask a set of questions about your pain and conduct a physical examination of the elbow joint, testing for pain, swelling, and tenderness. They may also ask you to do some exercises that involve bending and straightening the arm to test range of motion. Then, an X-ray will be taken to pinpoint the cause of the pain and determine whether there are effective options for non-invasive alternatives to surgery.

An elbow replacement is only recommended after non-surgical treatment options have been exhausted. These options may include resting, applying ice, taking anti-inflammatory pain medication, activity modification, and injecting plasma into the elbow. During surgery, a surgeon will make an incision into the back of the damaged elbow and remove the problematic bones. They will then shape the remaining bone to fit with an artificial joint made from either metal, plastic or ceramic materials. 

Elbow replacement surgery is generally an effective option for eliminating pain and restoring motion, provided you give yourself the proper care during and after the procedures. Done correctly, the procedure can restore pain-free range of motion and elbow function for many years. The downside is that artificial elbow replacements do not last forever, and most require repeat surgeries to remove and replace loose or worn-out prosthetics. If you are willing to commit to the maintenance requirements, an elbow replacement could greatly enhance your quality of life long-term.

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.

As the elbow is a site of frequent movement in the body, proper rehabilitation is essential for long-term recovery and wellbeing. The right length of time depends on factors like your health and age. Before beginning any rehabilitative therapy, you should wear a splint or sling for at least two weeks in order to protect your new elbow from damage or displacement. Following this, there are a number of different rehabilitation treatments available, including physical therapy and occupational therapy.

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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