Arthroscopy is a type of surgery that uses an arthroscope, a thin fiber optic camera, to visualize an internal area and confirm a diagnosis. If damage or abnormalities are detected during the arthroscopy, repairs can often be made during the same procedure. Arthroscopy is considered an ideal treatment option for many conditions, since it offers smaller incisions, shorter recovery times and less scarring than traditional open surgery. Patients can often return home the same day as their procedure and resume their regular activities in just a few weeks, while experiencing less pain, greater range of motion and restored joint function.
Elbow arthroscopy is generally used for simple manipulations of the joint, such as fracture care, debridement and removal of bone fragments. It is also commonly used to confirm and examine abnormalities of the joint to provide a proper diagnosis of any elbow conditions.
The Elbow Arthroscopy Procedure
During the elbow arthroscopy procedure, the surgeon makes a small incision near the affected area of the elbow and inserts an arthroscope, a long flexible tube with a camera and a tiny light on the end. This device displays magnified images of the inside of the elbow joint on a video monitor for the surgeon to view in real time. During this diagnostic part of the procedure, the elbow is examined for any signs of tearing, damage or degeneration to the ligaments, cartilage and other internal structures.
If damage is detected, it can often be repaired during the same procedure by creating a few more small incisions through which tiny surgical instruments are inserted. These instruments allow the surgeon to replace damaged cartilage, join together torn ends, remove loose tissue or realign the joint to minimize pain and inflammation. Once the repair has been performed, the tools and arthroscope are removed and the incisions are sutured closed. A dressing will be applied to the area, which will later be replaced with smaller bandages as the incisions heal.
Risks of Elbow Arthroscopy
While elbow arthroscopy is considered safer and more efficient than conventional elbow procedures, there are still certain risks associated with any type of surgery. Some of these risks may include:
- Reaction to anesthesia
- Nerve or blood vessel damage
- Tissue damage
- Prolonged pain
- Blood clots
Patients should discuss these and other risks with their doctor before undergoing elbow arthroscopy.
Recovery and Results of Elbow Arthroscopy
To reduce the risk of swelling, the elbow is elevated and ice is applied intermittently for 48 hours after the initial surgery. In most cases, the arm will be put into a splint for several days. As healing begins, a physical therapy program will help the individual to regain strength, flexibility and range of motion. Depending on the type of repair that was performed, recovery times may vary, but most patients fully recover from elbow arthroscopy within several months.
While arthroscopy offers many advantages over conventional elbow surgery, it may not be appropriate for all patients, especially those with conditions affecting hard-to-visualize areas. In such cases, traditional surgery may be more appropriate.