What Should I Expect from Elbow Surgery?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

What to expect from elbow surgery varies, depending on the nature of the procedure being performed. Different surgeons also have widely different approaches, which is something else to keep in mind. When preparing for elbow surgery, it is a very good idea to sit down with the surgeon before the surgery to talk about the goals of the surgery, what will happen during surgery, and what to expect during recovery. Patients should also expect to meet with an anesthesiologist who will discuss anesthesia and pain management options and evaluate the patient for any risks which could make the procedure dangerous.

The elbow joint.
The elbow joint.

Before elbow surgery takes place, patients should expect some medical imaging studies which will be used to image the elbow to get an idea of what is going on inside before the surgery takes place. Blood will also be drawn for analysis to check for any risks, and the patient will be asked for a complete and detailed history which is designed to reveal any potential risks; even if something does not seem relevant to the patient, it should be disclosed. For example, an allergy to corn could be a problem because gloves are sometimes dusted with cornstarch.

A patient is usually given general anesthesia before elbow surgery.
A patient is usually given general anesthesia before elbow surgery.

Prior to the surgery, the patient will be asked to refrain from eating and drinking, to reduce risks from anesthesia. The patient will need to check into a hospital for the surgery, and will be asked to change into a hospital gown. The hospital may ask that all jewelry be removed, and the patient will be asked to sign a consent form to indicate that she or he fully understands the procedure and its risks. A nurse or technician will place an intravenous line, and the patient will be given some medications to relax.

The elbow may be immobilized with a cast following elbow surgery.
The elbow may be immobilized with a cast following elbow surgery.

When it's time for surgery, anesthesia will be induced by the anesthesiologist, who will monitor the patient during the elbow surgery. The length of the surgery can vary, depending on why it is being performed; something like elbow replacement, for example, will take longer than a surgery for tennis elbow, as a general rule. Once the elbow surgery is over, drugs will be administered to reverse the anesthesia, and the patient will be taken to recovery to be watched; it may be necessary to stay overnight after elbow surgery.

The length of time that surgery takes depends on the type of elbow surgery being performed.
The length of time that surgery takes depends on the type of elbow surgery being performed.

Because anesthesia can compromise the airway, patients are asked to blow into a peak flow meter periodically while in recovery to check on their airways. Patients are also usually directed to practice breathing exercises during recovery, and they are given prescriptions for antibiotics to prevent infections, and pain management medications for the first few days after surgery. After some surgeries, the elbow may be immobilized with a cast or a sling to protect the elbow while it heals. Once the cast or sling can be removed, the patient can have physical therapy to strengthen the elbow and help it recover.

Blood is drawn prior to elbow surgery to test for any possible risks.
Blood is drawn prior to elbow surgery to test for any possible risks.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

Spotiche5

@ocelot60- I agree with you. I think that many patients aren't prepared for what it's like to recover from surgery, especially those who have never had surgery before.

Another important factor that will help the healing process go smoothly is having help around the house. Jumping back into doing house chores is a good way to slow down healing and increase elbow pain. Patients who have the help of family, friends, or even house sitters on board before their procedures will be able to take it easy after surgery.

Ocelot60

My dad had elbow surgery a few years ago, and I think that anyone who has to have this type of procedure should expect to take it easy for quite a while. Even after several weeks of rest, the patient must take getting back to normal very slowly so he or she doesn't do damage to the elbow as it heals.

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