Elbow Arthrotomy

An arthrotomy is a surgical procedure that requires surgically opening a joint. During an elbow arthrotomy, a surgical incision is made into the elbow joint, to visualize and diagnose a condition, or to surgically repair problems of the joint. An arthrotomy is often performed to relieve the persistent symptoms and pain resulting from a condition such as tennis elbow.

Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is an elbow injury that occurs as a result of overuse, most commonly from playing tennis or other activities with similar repetitive motions. The pain associated with this condition affects the lateral epicondyle, the area where the forearm tendons connect with the bony outer portion of the elbow. In many cases, tennis elbow can be managed with rest, ice and over-the-counter pain medication. However, severe cases that have not responded to treatment, may require surgery.

The Elbow Arthrotomy Procedure

Arthrotomy is a traditional open surgery in which the doctor has a full view of the elbow joint. During the elbow arthrotomy procedure, the patient is sedated under general anesthesia and the surgeon makes an incision over the elbow and examines the joint. Depending upon the nature of the problem causing the patient's pain, there are several ways that a doctor may repair the condition once the elbow is open for examination.

Tendon Release

An arthrotomy may be used to perform a tendon release procedure. In this procedure, the doctor debrides the degenerative sections of tendon. The tendon may also be excised, to relieve some of the stress, and any swollen or damaged tissue is removed.

Repairing Tears

If tears are present in the tendon, they may be repaired or reattached. In some cases, the tendon will be anchored to the bone by sutures.

Removing Bone Fragments

In some cases, fragments of bone or cartilage may be found in the elbow joint. If these fragments are detected, the surgeon will carefully remove the fragments that can cause inflammation and pain. Bone spurs at the site may also be shaved down to reduce irritation.

Risks of Elbow Arthrotomy

While arthrotomy is generally considered a safe procedure, there are risks associated with any type of surgery. Complications of an elbow arthrotomy may include:

  • Infection
  • Nerve damage
  • Bleeding
  • Reaction to anesthesia
  • Elbow stiffness
  • Loss of mobility
  • Loss of strength

After an elbow arthrotomy procedure, individuals may experience prolonged or ongoing pain around the joint.

Recovery from Elbow Arthrotomy

The recovery period after an elbow arthrotomy varies depending on each patient's condition. Arthrotomy is typically performed as an outpatient surgery, but occasionally a patient will be admitted to the hospital for one night. A splint is usually required for the first week after surgery to keep the arm immobilized and promote healing. Ice and anti-inflammatory medication can help to control swelling and pain.

Physical therapy is a vital component to a complete recovery, helping to strengthen the muscles and tendons around the elbow and regain a normal range of motion for the joint. Most patients can resume their typical athletic activities within 4 to 6 months after the procedure.

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