Relieving Elbow Pain
Arthroscopy is a procedure that orthopaedic surgeons use to inspect, diagnose, and repair problems inside a joint. Arthroscopic elbow surgery, often called “scoping the elbow,” is a treatment option for some types of elbow pain like tennis elbow.
This procedure is often used to release scar tissue, remove loose bodies or resurface the bone to decrease pain and improve range of motion. Your doctor may recommend arthroscopy if you have a painful condition that does not respond to nonsurgical treatment. Nonsurgical treatment includes rest, physical therapy, and medications or injections that can reduce inflammation.
Because the arthroscope and surgical instruments are thin, very small incisions (cuts) occur rather than the larger incision needed for open surgery. This results in less pain for patients, less joint stiffness, and often shortens the time it takes to recover and return to favorite activities.
Elbow arthroscopy has been performed since the 1980s. It has made diagnosis, treatment, and recovery from surgery easier and faster than was once thought possible. Improvements to elbow arthroscopy occur every year as new instruments and techniques are developed.
During the Procedure
Dr. Hoover will first fill the elbow joint with fluid. The fluid helps him more clearly see the structures of your elbow through the camera on the arthroscope. This lessens the risk of injury to the blood vessels and nerves surrounding your joint. He will then make several small incisions to introduce the arthroscope and small instruments into the joint.
Fluid flows through the arthroscope to keep the view clear and control any bleeding. Images from the arthroscope are projected on the video screen showing Dr. Hoover the inside of your elbow and any problems. He will evaluate the joint before beginning any specific treatments. If indicated, the entire joint will be evaluated, which may require a total of five or six very small arthroscopy incisions.
During arthroscopy, Dr. Hoover inserts the arthroscope and small instruments into your joint.
Once the problem is clearly identified, he will insert other small instruments through separate incisions to repair it. Specialized instruments are used for tasks like shaving, cutting, grasping, suture passing, and knot tying. In many cases, special devices are used to anchor stitches into bone.
The arthroscopy incisions are usually stitched or covered with skin tapes at the end of the surgery. An absorbent dressing is applied to the elbow. Depending upon the procedure, Dr. Hoover will place either an additional soft dressing that will allow movement or a plaster splint that will restrict movement and better protect the elbow.
Most patients do not experience complications from elbow arthroscopy. As with any surgery, however, there are some risks. These are usually minor and treatable and not likely to affect your final outcome. However, most studies do report a slightly higher risk of infection and nerve irritation/injury following elbow arthroscopy as compared to arthroscopy of the shoulder and knee joints. Potential problems with elbow arthroscopy include infection, excessive bleeding, blood clots, and damage to blood vessels or nerves.
Dr. Hoover will discuss the potential risks and benefits of elbow arthroscopy with you prior to surgery. These risks are somewhat dependent on the type of surgery to be performed with the arthroscope.
Because patients have varied conditions, complete recovery time is different for everyone.
If you have had a minor repair, you may not need a splint and your range of motion and function may return after a short period of rehabilitation. You may be able to return to work or school within a few days of your procedure.
It takes longer to recover from more complicated procedures. Although the incisions are small in arthroscopy, extensive damage within the joint can be repaired with the procedure. Full recovery may take several months. Although it can be a slow process, following your surgeon’s guidelines and rehabilitation plan is vital to a successful outcome.
If you would like to schedule a consultation, please call our office at (865) 316-3650.