What is an elbow arthroscopy?
Elbow arthroscopy is a procedure used to examine, diagnose and treat problems affecting the elbow. Your surgeon will use a miniature camera to see inside your elbow. This will be inserted through making small cuts.
Elbow arthroscopy is also sometimes referred to as keyhole surgery.
What are the benefits of elbow arthroscopy?
When the elbow is damaged it can prevent movement, becoming stiff. The aim of the surgery is to investigate and confirm what exactly the problem is and in some cases, treat it. Patients with elbow arthritis who undergo arthroscopy will see significant improvement in their symptoms and function.
Also, because the surgery involves making smaller cuts in the soft tissue, there will be less pain, swelling and stiffness than conventional surgery, with a faster recovery.
Are there any alternatives to elbow arthroscopy surgery?
Problems inside a joint can often be diagnosed using special tests such as CT and MRI scans. However, you may then need an elbow arthroscopy to treat the problem.
What does an elbow arthroscopy involve?
The elbow arthroscopy operation is performed under a regional or general anaesthetic. The operation usually takes about half an hour.
Your surgeon will usually make about two to four small cuts around the joint. They will place a small telescope through one of the cuts so they can examine the joint. They will place surgical instruments through the other cuts if they need to treat any problems with the joint (see figure 1).
What complications can happen?
Elbow arthroscopy is generally a safe and routine procedure, with benefits outweighing the disadvantages for most patients. Any invasive surgery has risks such as pain, bleeding, infection in the surgical wound or unsightly scarring.
Specific complications of this operation:
- Bleeding into the joint
- Infection in the joint
- Severe pain, stiffness and loss of use of the arm and hand (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome)
- Damage to nerves
- Damage to the radial nerve
The consultant will discuss the full risks ahead of the procedure.
How soon will I recover?
Recovery time can vary from patient to patient, but you should be able to resume to normal activities after a few weeks following surgery. You should also be able to go home on the same day of surgery.
After the arthroscopy your elbow will be placed into an elbow split. This will allow you to move your hand but also protect the elbow. Keeping the arm elevated will reduce the risk of excessive swelling and pain.
Physiotherapy exercises may be recommended, depending on the overall condition of your elbow.
Paying for your operation
Elbow arthroscopy costs are covered by most medical insurance policies, but please check with your insurer first. If you are paying for your own treatment the cost of the operation will be explained and confirmed in writing when you book the operation. Ask the hospital for a quote beforehand, and ensure that this includes the surgeon’s fee, the anaesthetist’s fee and the hospital charge for your procedure.
*Revised and updated November 2016