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Elbow Arthroscopy

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 2, 2022.

What is 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 do I 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.

What are the 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.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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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Further information

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