Until recently, elbow surgery required large incisions, leaving large scars and significant pain after surgery. But with the advancement of optical and orthopaedic technology, we can now perform many elbow procedures by making very small incisions and using a camera (arthroscope) to view the inside of the elbow and fix it.
The advantages of elbow arthroscopy are:
- Smaller scars
- Less anesthesia
- Less pain after surgery
- Faster recovery
Every year, new techniques and tools are introduced which make arthroscopic surgery more precise and consistent, and therefore more successful. Dr. Anthony Romeo has been very instrumental in the introduction and design of many of the elbow arthroscopic procedures performed today, including the treatment of tennis elbow, baseball and other overhead athlete elbow problems, stiff elbows, and elbow arthritis.
The technical skills for elbow arthroscopy are much different than other joints and the risk of nerve injury is higher. Dr. Romeo takes extra care to ensure the procedure is done safely with protection of all the nerves.
Elbow Arthroscopy Procedure Details
Prior to surgery, most patients are given a numbing block in their shoulder and arm to anesthetize the nerves connected to the elbow. Because patients require much less anesthesia during an arthroscopic surgery, they can go home the same day and have a more comfortable recovery.
After anesthesia is administered, the patient is either placed in a lying-on-the-side position, or on their stomach. This is decided based on the type of elbow surgery which is planned.
Four small incisions (under 1/2”) are made around the elbow. The arthroscope (camera) is then introduced into the front part of the elbow joint. Sterile salt water is used to inflate the joint and allow safe placement of other instruments into the elbow.
Small instruments are placed into the joint to diagnose any abnormalities or tears. Photographs and videos are taken of the different parts of the elbow to document its condition. Shavers are used to remove damaged tissue in tennis elbow surgery, and burrs are used when bone needs to be removed in arthritis surgery. Sometimes a piece of bone can be fixed with a screw, or torn tissue fixed with bone anchors, all of which can be done with advanced elbow arthroscopy techniques.
At the conclusion of the procedure, sutures are used to close the small skin incisions and small band-aids (Steri-strips) are placed over the incisions with sterile dressings. When the patient wakes up, they will find the elbow covered in a dressing, and their arm in a sling. For procedures which include ligament or tendon repairs, or ligament reconstructions, they may also have a hinged brace on their elbow. When the surgical procedure is completed, the surgical team checks the circulation in the arm and checks for excess swelling or other problems before patients are discharge to home that day.
Elbow Arthroscopy Recovery
Recovery from an arthroscopic procedure is quicker than recovery from major surgery. Some swelling is a normal part of the recovery process. Ice packs applied to the site of the elbow surgery several times a day can help ease swelling and discomfort. Dr. Romeo will give you specific instructions for post-op pain management.
After surgery, a sling is worn until the effects of anesthesia are resolved and the arm and hand are no longer numb. For procedures without tendon or ligament reconstruction, Dr. Romeo will encourage you to begin moving your shoulder, elbow, wrist, and hand within a few days of surgery. After the first postoperative visit in approximately 10 days, physical therapy to help you recover from your surgery will begin. A normal course of physical therapy often includes up to three months of supervision with a gradual return to full activities.
As your elbow recovers, it is important to stay alert for any red flags of infection or other healing problems. Fortunately, these are rare.
Warning signs include:
- increasing numbness or tingling sensations into your hand and wrist
- pain near your incision
- bleeding or other discharge
- swelling that is beyond what is expected
For more information about effective elbow arthroscopy treatment, please request an appointment with experienced Chicago orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Anthony Romeo. Call or email our office today to schedule your visit.
Anthony Romeo, MD
Dr. Anthony Romeo is one of the nation’s leading orthopaedic surgeons specializing in the management and surgical treatment of shoulder and elbow conditions. His state-of-the-art practice employs minimally-invasive arthroscopic techniques to accelerate the recovery process for a range of challenging conditions.