Elbow joint replacement, also called elbow arthroplasty, can effectively treat the problems caused by arthritis of the elbow. The procedure is also becoming more widely used in aging adults to replace joints damaged by fractures. The artificial elbow is considered successful by more than 90 percent of patients who have elbow joint replacement.
An elbow joint replacement surgery is usually considered a last resort for a badly damaged and painful elbow joint. The artificial joint replaces the damaged surfaces with metal and plastic that are designed to fit together and rub smoothly against each other, helping take away the pain of bone rubbing against bone.
The most common reason for an artificial elbow replacement is arthritis. There are two main types of arthritis, degenerative and systemic. Degenerative arthritis is also called wear-and-tear arthritis, or osteoarthritis. Any injury to the elbow can damage the joint and lead to degenerative arthritis.
The most common form of systemic arthristis is rheumatoid arthritis. All types of systemic arthritis are diseases that affect many of the joints in the body, causing destruction of the joints' articular cartilage lining.
An elbow joint replacement may also be used immediately following certain types of elbow fractures, usually in aging adults. Elbow fractures are difficult to repair surgically in the best of circumstances. In many aging adults, the bone is also weak from osteoporosis. The weakened bone makes it much harder for the surgeon to use metal plates and screws to hold the fractured pieces of bone in place long enough for them to heal together. In cases like this, it is sometimes better to remove the fractured pieces and replace the elbow with an artificial joint.
Your Southern Bone & Joint Specialists hand surgeon and you will make the decision to proceed with surgery together. You need to understand as much about the procedure as possible. If you have concerns or questions, you should talk to your surgeon.
You may also need to spend time with the Southern Bone & Joint Specialists physical or occupational therapist who will be managing your rehabilitation after surgery. This allows you to get a head start on your recovery. One purpose of this pre-operative visit is to record a baseline of information. Your therapist will check your current pain levels, ability to do your activities, and the movement and strength of each elbow.
A second purpose of the pre-operative therapy visit is to prepare you for surgery. You will begin learning some of the exercises you'll use during your recovery. Your therapist can help you anticipate any special needs or problems you might have at home.
After surgery, your elbow will probably be covered by a bulky bandage and a splint. Depending on the type of implant used, your elbow will either be positioned straight or slightly bent. You may also have a small plastic tube that drains blood from the joint. You may have some discomfort after surgery. You will be given pain medicine to control the discomfort you have.
A Southern Bone & Joint Specialists physical or occupational therapist will direct your rehabilitation program. Recovery takes up to three months after elbow replacement surgery. The first few therapy treatments will focus on controlling the pain and swelling from surgery. Heat treatments may be used. Your therapist may also use gentle massage and other types of hands-on treatments to ease muscle spasm and pain.
Then you'll begin gentle range-of-motion exercises. Strengthening exercises are used to give added stability around the elbow joint. You'll learn ways to lift and carry items in order to do your tasks safely and with the least amount of stress on your elbow joint. As with any surgery, you need to avoid doing too much, too quickly.