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Total Elbow Replacement

When non-surgical treatments fail to treat your elbow pain, elbow replacement may be an option. Also known as total elbow arthroplasty, this procedure is most commonly used to treat elbow pain caused by arthritis. It works by replacing part of the elbow joint with artificial pieces.

Is elbow replacement right for me?

To decide if you’re a candidate for elbow replacement, your surgeon will do an exam and order imaging tests. You'll most likely try treatments like injections or medications first. When those are no longer effective, you may qualify for surgery.

In addition to arthritis, elbow replacement is used as a treatment for:

  • An elbow growth or tumor
  • Elbow pain when you’ve already had surgery
  • A severe break in the elbow related to osteoporosis

What should I expect during elbow replacement?

During your surgery, you’ll have anesthesia to put you to sleep. After your surgeon makes an incision on your elbow, he or she will carefully move your muscles, ligaments, and the major nerve in your elbow out of the way.

Your surgeon will remove some of the joint surfaces on the three bones that make up your elbow joint — the humerus, radius, and ulna. Then, he or she will insert artificial pieces into the humerus and the ulna. Your surgeon may or may not use cement to secure them in place.

The artificial pieces then connect to create a hinge in the elbow. Once everything is in place, your surgeon will test your new joint and close up the incision.

What are the risks of elbow replacement?

Most patients recover well after surgery. Some rare complications include:

  • Blood clots
  • An infection in the elbow
  • Injury to the nerves, bones, or blood vessels
  • Dislocation or loosening of your new elbow joint
  • Continuing elbow pain after surgery

What recovery is needed after elbow replacement?

You can expect to stay in the hospital for four to five days. You may have a drain in your incision initially, but this will be removed after a day or two. Your care team will work with you to control your pain, including the use of a patient-controlled analgesia pump. You’ll also use ice packs and keep your elbow elevated to help reduce swelling.

To help you recover, you’ll work with an occupational therapist. And, you should continue to go to regular therapy appointments after you leave the hospital. Your surgeon will give you specific instructions based on your procedure for recovering at home. In general, it’s important to keep your incision clean, eat a healthy diet, and avoid smoking to encourage healing.