Although elbow joint replacement is much less common than knee or hip replacement, it is just as successful in relieving joint pain and returning people to activities they enjoy.
Whether you have just begun exploring treatment options or have already decided to have elbow replacement surgery, this article will help you understand more about this valuable procedure.
Before Your Operation
You will most likely be admitted to the hospital on the day of your surgery. After admission, you will be taken to the preoperative preparation area and will meet a doctor from the anesthesia department.
You, your anesthesiologist, and your surgeon will discuss the type of anesthesia to be used. In most total elbow replacement surgeries, a general anesthetic that puts you to sleep for the entire operation is used.
To reach the elbow joint, your surgeon will make an incision (cut), usually at the back of the elbow. After making the incision, your surgeon will gently move muscles aside to get access to the bone. After removing scar tissue and spurs around the joint, your surgeon will prepare the humerus to fit the metallic piece that will replace that side of the joint. The same preparation is done for the ulna.
The replacement stems are placed into the humerus and ulna bones, and kept in place with a bone cement. The two stems are connected by a hinge pin. After the wound is closed, a padded dressing is then placed to protect the incision while it heals.
Some surgeons will place a temporary tube in the joint to drain the surgical fluid. This tube can be easily removed in your hospital room within the first few days after surgery.
The metal replacement parts are made of chrome-cobalt alloy or titanium and there is a liner made of polyethylene (plastic). The bone cement is made of polymethylmethacrylate (acrylic, a type of plastic).
Your medical team will give you several doses of antibiotics to prevent infection. Most patients are able to eat solid food and get out of bed the day after surgery. You will most likely stay at the hospital 2 to 4 days after your surgery.
After surgery, you will feel some pain. This is a natural part of the healing process. Your doctor and nurses will work to reduce your pain, which can help you recover from surgery faster.
Medications are often prescribed for short-term pain relief after surgery. Many types of medicines are available to help manage pain, including opioids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and local anesthetics. Your doctor may use a combination of these medications to improve pain relief, as well as minimize the need for opioids.
Be aware that although opioids help relieve pain after surgery, they are a narcotic and can be addictive. Opioid dependency and overdose has become a critical public health issue in the U.S. It is important to use opioids only as directed by your doctor. As soon as your pain begins to improve, stop taking opioids. Talk to your doctor if your pain has not begun to improve within a few days of your surgery.
A careful, well-planned rehabilitation program is critical to the success of an elbow replacement. You will be taught some exercises for your hand and wrist to avoid stiffness and help to control swelling. You will do gentle elbow range-of-motion exercises as the incision heals. Your doctor may prescribe therapy or may teach you how to do the exercises yourself.
You will most likely not be allowed to put any weight on your arm or push against resistance with your hand until about 6 weeks after your surgery.