Your elbow is a hinged joint composed of three different bones: the humerus, ulna and radius. Cartilage, a flexible connective tissue, sits at the ends of these bones to help them glide easily during elbow movement.
While the elbow joint is under less constant stress than the knee or hip joint, it is still vulnerable to injury, overuse and arthritis.
Elbow pain can impact a multitude of daily activities. It can make exercising, working, or completing chores difficult. As a result, individuals with chronic elbow pain may seek surgical treatment options to get relief.
Elbow replacements–while not performed as frequently as knee or hip replacements–still have an impressive success rate. If you’re suffering from long-term pain from elbow arthritis or injury, it’s important to talk with your orthopaedic specialist about treatment options. You may be a candidate for an elbow replacement procedure.
What Causes Elbow Pain?
The main cause of elbow pain is overuse. The most common condition associated with overuse is tennis elbow.
Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) is a type of tendinitis. It is caused by repeated movements that strain the lateral epicondyle tendon on the outside of the forearm. It is different from golfer’s elbow, which affects the medial epicondyle tendon on the inside of the forearm.
People with tennis elbow experience pain in the forearm. The pain often radiates up the arm or down into the wrist and hand. They may also experience tenderness in the bony knob of the elbow. As the condition worsens, tennis elbow may cause weakened grip.
Despite its name, tennis elbow affects far more people than just tennis players. It can affect any athlete, as well as musicians and people in labor-intensive jobs like construction or carpentry.
Injury, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis can also cause chronic elbow pain. Osteoarthritis causes degeneration in the cartilage that cushions the elbow joint during movement. As the disease progresses, the bones begin to grind together, causing significant pain.
Untreated elbow injuries often lead to osteoarthritis in the joint.
How is Elbow Pain Usually Treated?
Elbow pain is treated using a number of methods:
- Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
- Physical Therapy
- Cortisone Injections
- Surgical Intervention (Total Elbow Arthroplasty)
Surgery is often recommended for individuals who have not experienced pain relief with other treatment options.
What is a Total Elbow Arthroplasty?
Total elbow arthroplasty is a surgical procedure that replaces the damaged humerus and ulna of the elbow with metal or plastic components.
Partial elbow arthroplasty is used far less frequently, but may be recommended in unique situations.
There are two styles of elbow replacements: linked and unlinked. Linked elbow implants–the most common type–are embedded into the bones of the elbow and linked together using an artificial hinge.
Unlinked elbow implants rely on the natural components of the elbow to stabilize the artificial components. For this reason, only a person with healthy tendons, ligaments and muscles is a candidate for an unlinked elbow implant.
Candidates for Total Elbow Arthroplasty
In general, elbow replacement procedures work best for older patients who live more sedentary lifestyles.
However, designs and technology for elbow arthroplasty and artificial components are evolving rapidly. New designs may work better for younger patients who want to lead active lives post-surgery.
Recovery Time for Total Elbow Arthroplasty
Like any major surgery, an elbow replacement requires downtime.
Patients with uncomplicated procedures will typically go home from the hospital after two days.
Most individuals will need help with housework and activities of daily living for 5-6 weeks after surgery.
Additionally, driving is not recommended for at least 4 to 6 weeks after surgery.
While many patients can begin using their arms normally after 12 weeks, a full recovery from replacement surgery can take up to a year.
Do you have questions about total elbow arthroplasty with Mobility Bone & Joint Institute?
Call (978) 794-1946 or click here to schedule an appointment at our Andover, MA office.
Call (603) 898-2220 or click here to schedule an appointment at our Salem, NH office.