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What is Arthroscopic Elbow Surgery?

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  • Written By: Deneatra Harmon
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 04 December 2016
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Orthopaedic surgeons use arthroscopic elbow surgery to treat an injured elbow joint. The procedure involves a camera and small instruments to repair the damage. Severe pain brought on by medical conditions or activities usually require arthroscopic elbow surgery. Complications are rare, and the benefits of having the surgery seem to outweigh the disadvantages. Recovery time from elbow arthroscopy is usually quicker as compared to traditional open surgery.

Arthroscopic elbow surgery is a minimally invasive procedure that allows the orthopaedic surgeon to examine the inside of the elbow joint to correct any problems affecting mobility and function. A small camera, also known as an arthroscope, enters the side of the elbow joint through small incisions. The camera setup allows the surgeon to examine the inner workings of the elbow joint before proceeding with elbow repair surgery. Surgical tools the size of a pencil repair the injured or worn elbow area and remove any damaged tissue or cartilage that caused the elbow pain.

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Preoperative procedures must be discussed and followed closely according to the doctor's instructions. Steps to prepare for the arthroscopic elbow surgery vary depending on the patient, the extent of the injury, as well as the patient's overall health. To avoid side effects or other complications, patients generally must refrain from taking aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) medications one week before the surgery. Other rules include no eating or drinking after midnight prior to the surgery, and avoiding wearing perfume, jewelry, or makeup during the surgery. Arthroscopic surgery of the elbow takes at least a few hours and does not require an overnight stay in the hospital.

Serious elbow joint pain that does not go away easily with rest usually signals the need for arthroscopic elbow surgery. Stiffness and problems with range of motion are also common reasons to have elbow arthroscopy. In addition to the pain, other causes include worn cartilage and damaged tissues in the elbow area. Damage or injury to the elbow most likely comes from exercise or sports activity or from conditions such as arthritis.

Like most surgical procedures, arthroscopic elbow surgery has its pros and cons. Among the benefits of arthroscopic elbow surgery include improvement in range of motion, quicker recovery time, and reduced or no pain. Scarring is also minimal compared to other types of surgery. While complications of elbow arthroscopy appear to be uncommon, some patients may experience bleeding, infection, stiffness, and nerve damage.

After arthroscopic elbow surgery, the patient must rest at home while keeping the elbow iced and elevated to reduce any swelling. The doctor will require the patient to keep the affected elbow dry and to practice movement exercises to restore normal functioning. Several weeks of physical therapy usually follow in the recovery process. After a follow-up exam, the patient generally may return to normal activities three to six weeks after minor arthroscopy. Otherwise, full recovery takes up to six months if the procedure was more serious.

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