Operations on the elbow joint are rather uncommon. In many cases, open reconstructions after fractures are necessary. With appropriate indications, we know from the knee and shoulder joints that minimally invasive procedures are also very promising. Arthroscopic operations on the elbow joint are performed while the patient is lying on his or her back or side. Most of the time full anesthesia is not necessary.
Before the operation, an extensive interview with the patient is required. An exact examination of the elbow joint is also performed. As a rule, an x-ray and in some cases an MRI of the affected extremity are also necessary. If the findings are unclear, a test substance may be injected into the joint in order to improve the diagnosis.
The indications for endoscopic operations on the elbow joint are the following:
- Free-floating bodies in the joint
- Dead areas of bone (osteonecrosis)
- Diseases of the internal lining membrane of the joint
- Unclear joint inflammations
- Partial stiffening of the elbow joint
- Bone growths on the bending or stretching side as a result of arthrosis
Free-floating bodies in the joint can be easily removed from the elbow joint through small incisions in the skin. Just as with the knee joint, affected areas with defects in the cartilage or bone can be cleaned or bored out. In the case of rheumatic diseases, a tissue sample is removed for exact histological examination at the same time as the affected joint membrane is removed. If there is elbow joint stiffening, adhesions can be removed and the joint easily mobilized.
Immobilization in a splint is in most cases not necessary. The elbow joint may be moved up to the point of feeling pain. For a few days, mild pain relievers should be taken. Patients are usually ready to return to work after 2 weeks. For patients who are required to perform heavy physical labor, the period of inability to work lasts between 4 and 6 weeks.
The rate of complications after an elbow operation is very low. Nerve damage and infections are extremely rare. With proper indications and an experienced operating physician, very good results are obtained with elbow arthroscopy.