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Elbow Replacement

Elbow replacement surgery otherwise total elbow arthroplasty, is a surgery involving the replacement of the damaged tissues and parts of the arm bones,,namely the humerus and the ulna with a prosthesis.This method is usually recommended for patients suffering from severe rheumatoid arthritis (RA) whose normal movement of the joint is restricted due to acute pain.

If only the radial head of the joint is damaged,only that section can be replaced with a metal.But the joint remains unchanged after the replacement. This kind of replacement is used in cases with fractures. General or local anesthesia or a nerve block anesthesia is given to the patient who undergoes this replacement surgery.This procedure has an advantage of speedy recovery with minimum pain.The surgery only requires two hours of time and a hospitalization period of 3-4 days. However, estimated time period of 12 weeks is required for the arm to show some movement. Full recovery might need over an year or less with proper care.

Who should consider an elbow replacement?

The most common reason for considering an elbow replacement surgery is severely damaged elbow joint , making the movement of arm restricted. Patients with badly broken bones, damaged or torn elbow tissues are the other susceptible groups.Patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis are also recommended for this replacement. Other indication for elbow replacement can be the presence of tumor in elbow. However, replacement options are only considered for patients who had tried and failed alternative methods of pain reliefs.

What tests are required to confirm the need for the surgery?

The need for an elbow replacement surgery is diagnoised after the physical examination of the injured joint by the surgeon . The surgeon also checks the arm for numbness to determine whether any nerve is entrapped or not. The surgeon visualizes the X-ray reports and confirms that there are no broken bones in the joint and then tries to maneuver the bones into its right position.

What are the associated concerns ?

One of the risks associated with elbow replacement surgery is the formation of the blood clots , stiffness of the joint or nerve damage . In certain cases it may lead to infection which in turn may lead to the requirement of reoperation. Anesthesia associated risks and allergic reaction are also a concern. Persistence of pain and occurence of fracture , loosening of the implants, weakening of triceps tendon are also the factors of high alert.

What would be the average life of the implants ?

The average life of the artificial elbow implants ranges from 8-10 years or longer depending on lifestyle of the patient, stress put on the joints and care given.Good routine of physical exercises with the elbows, help in increased life of the implants. However, by the passage of time, the implants tend to loosen up leading to revision surgery.

How worthwhile would be the elbow implant?

After the surgery , with the implanted prosthesis and physical therapy ,one can expect a relief from chronic pain of joints. Without the stiffness, the arms can experience a natural motion upto certain extent. One can carry out their routine activities with hands eventually ,with much comfort.