Pacific Rim Orthopedic Surgeons

Elbow Replacement Surgery

Joint Replacement Procedure

Elbow replacement surgery, alternatively known as elbow joint replacement surgery or elbow arthroplasty, helps to relieve chronic pain in the elbow and restore the range of motion by replacing the damaged joint with a prosthetic one.

What is Elbow Joint Replacement Surgery?

Elbow replacement surgery is a procedure where an orthopedic surgeon replaces the elbow joint with an artificial joint. Not every elbow arthroplasty operation requires the whole of the elbow joint to be replaced. For example, if only the head of a forearm bone (the radius) is damaged, it can be replaced with an artificial one. If the entire elbow joint needs to be replaced, the ends of the bones that come together in the elbow will need to be reshaped.

Elbow replacement surgery is aimed at improving the overall quality of day-to-day life, helping patients to return to activities without pain, and restoring the range of motion that was lost due to the condition or injuries that have required surgery.

A rendering of what the artificial joint from an elbow joint replacement looks like.

Elbow Replacement Surgical Procedure Outline

Prior to the surgery, your doctor or the surgeon will ask about medications that could cause extra bleeding, such as:

  • Blood thinners
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or aspirin
  • Arthritis medications

Your doctor will evaluate your overall health to ensure you’re able to have the surgery will review your symptoms with you, and may order imaging tests for the surgeon to see the amount of damage in the elbow. Another reason an imaging test, like an X-ray, may be ordered is to take note of anything that was previously unknown that could affect whether or not surgery can be scheduled.

Elbow Replacement Surgery

On the day of your elbow replacement surgery, the surgical team will discuss anesthesia and a never block for your post-surgery recovery, and the procedure itself usually takes no more than two hours. The type of artificial elbow joint will depend on the reason for the operation, the two options are:

  1. Linked joint: A hinge that connects metal stems implanted into the ends of both the humerus and ulna bones.
  2. Unlinked joint: The joint tissue will connect the metal stems in the ulna humerus instead of an implanted hinge.

The surgery itself has several steps:

  1. An incision is made at the back of the elbow
  2. the muscles are gently moved aside so the surgeon can access the bone
  3. Any scar tissue is removed, as well as the spurs around the joint.
  4. The surgeon prepares the humerus and the ulna to fit the implant
  5. The artificial stems are placed into the humerus and ulna bones and kept in place using bone cement before being connected by a hinge pin if the linked method is chosen. If the unlinked method was used, the ligaments are connected. 
  6. The incision is closed before bandaged
  7. The surgeon may place a temporary drainage tube so the surgical fluid can empty out. If one is placed, it’s removed a few days after the surgery.

Post-Surgical Recovery

After the elbow replacement surgery is finished, you will need to keep your arm elevated as much as possible for the next several days. The surgeon will prescribe pain management medication and give you gentle exercises to help the elbow heal and restore mobility. These exercises may be taught by a physical therapist and ones you can do yourself at home.

A man with a lump in the crook of his elbow from olecranon bursiti.

Why the Elbow Replacement Procedure is Needed

An elbow joint may need replacement for one or more of the following reasons:

  • A bone tumor
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • An injury to the elbow, such as a broken or cracked bone within it. 
  • Posttraumatic Arthritis
  • Instability from the ligaments that hold the elbow joint together

There are three bones that are connected by the elbow joint: the humerus, ulna, and radius. Each of these bones, like all bones, has cartilage that can be damaged by the above injuries and conditions. When the cartilage is damaged, it can force the three bones to rub against each other incorrectly and give chronic swelling, pain, and joint stiffness.

Make an Appointment with our Orthopedic Surgeons

We at Proliance Pacific Rim Orthopedic Surgeons strive to help our patients achieve a return to normal activity through compassionate and exceptional care using evidence-based medicine in a patient-friendly environment. We are committed to bringing you a high standard of care that is patient-focused, with the goal of improving your quality of life.