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Elbow Arthroscopy


What you need to know about an elbow arthroscopy:

An elbow arthroscopy is a procedure to look inside your elbow with an arthroscope. This is a thin tube with a light and camera on the end. Your healthcare provider may also fix problems in your elbow during the procedure.

How to prepare for an elbow arthroscopy:

  • Your healthcare provider will talk to you about how to prepare for your procedure. You may need an x-ray, ultrasound, or MRI before your procedure. These tests will take pictures of your joint and help your healthcare provider plan for your surgery. Arrange for someone to drive you home after surgery. Ask the person to stay with you for at least 24 hours after the procedure.
  • Your healthcare provider may tell you not to eat or drink anything after midnight on the day of your procedure. He or she will tell you what medicines to take or not take on the day of your procedure. You may be given an antibiotic through your IV to help prevent a bacterial infection. Tell your provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to antibiotics or anesthesia.

What will happen during an elbow arthroscopy:

  • You may get general anesthesia to keep you asleep and pain-free during your procedure. You may instead get a regional block that numbs your elbow. The regional block will also help decrease pain after your procedure. Your provider will choose a position for you to lie in that will let him or her work on your elbow easily. A padded roll or bar may be placed under your elbow to keep it elevated and in position.
  • Your healthcare provider will make small puncture sites around your elbow. The arthroscope will be inserted into one of the puncture sites. Your provider will examine your elbow joint in pictures shown on a monitor. He or she may insert tools into the puncture sites around your elbow. The tools may be used to repair damage. Tools may also be used to remove swollen tissue, cartilage, or a bone spur. Your healthcare provider may close your puncture sites with stitches or medical tape and cover them with a small bandage.

What will happen after an elbow arthroscopy:

You may need an x-ray to look at your elbow joint and watch for complications. Do not move your elbow until your healthcare provider says it is okay. You will be given instructions on movements to avoid. You may also be given exercises to do to strengthen your elbow and increase your range of motion. You may then be able to go home. Your elbow may have a light bandage wrapped around it, and you may need to keep your arm in a sling. You may have numbness or problems moving your hand for 12 hours after surgery. This is normal and should get better within a day.

Risks of an elbow arthroscopy:

You may develop a fistula (abnormal opening) where surgery was done. You may get an infection in the surgery area or in the elbow joint. Nerves, ligaments, tendons, or blood vessels may be damaged during your procedure. You may have trouble moving your elbow. You may develop compartment syndrome. Compartment syndrome is a medical emergency. Compartment syndrome happens when swelling or bleeding increases pressure in and between muscles. This stops blood from flowing to the area and causes muscle and nerve damage. You may also get a blood clot in your arm. This can become life-threatening.

Seek care immediately if:

  • Your arm feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.
  • You have numbness or tingling in your elbow or arm more than 24 hours after surgery.
  • You cannot move your arm or fingers.
  • The skin on your arm or hand becomes pale or turns blue.
  • You have sudden, severe pain anywhere in your arm or hand.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have pain that is not helped with pain medicine.
  • You have signs of infection, such as red streaks, swelling, or pus in the surgery wound.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


You may need any of the following:

  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely. Some prescription pain medicines contain acetaminophen. Do not take other medicines that contain acetaminophen without talking to your healthcare provider. Too much acetaminophen may cause liver damage. Prescription pain medicine may cause constipation. Ask your healthcare provider how to prevent or treat constipation.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him or her if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Care for your incision wound as directed:

Keep the bandage on your elbow clean and dry. Do not remove your bandage until your healthcare provider says it is okay. Your healthcare provider will tell you when it is okay to take a shower or bath. He or she will tell you when to change the bandage. Look for signs of infection, such as red streaks, swelling, and pus. Check for infection every day.


  • Apply ice as directed. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel before you apply it to your elbow. Apply ice for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed.
  • Elevate your elbow above the level of your heart as often as you can. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop your arm on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably.
  • Do not lift with your operated arm as directed. You may damage your elbow if you lift anything after surgery. Do not carry anything with the hand on your operated arm, or put weight on the arm.
  • Use an elbow brace as directed. You may be given a hinged elbow brace after surgery. The brace will help protect your elbow. Your healthcare provider may want you to wear it for a few weeks.
  • Ask when you can return to your daily activities. Your healthcare provider will tell you when it is okay to start driving, return to work, and do other activities.
  • Do not play sports until your healthcare provider says it is okay. You will need to wait until you do not have pain in your elbow. You will also need full range of motion in the elbow. Start slowly. You will be able to put more stress on your elbow slowly, over time. If you play a sport that involves throwing, your provider will create a return to throwing plan. This may start about 5 months after surgery. You will have to start slowly and work up to full throwing motions. You will also need to work up to full participation in your sport. You may need to wait until x-ray or MRI pictures show that your elbow has healed completely. This may take 6 months.
  • Go to physical therapy if directed. A physical therapist can teach you exercises to help strengthen your elbow and increase range of motion.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

You may need to come in to have your sutures removed. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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