Elbow Replacement

Elbow replacement is when the bones in your elbow are replaced with metal and plastic parts.

Your elbow is where your humerus, the large bone in your upper arm, meets the radius and ulna in your lower arm. Your radius starts in front of your humerus, above your ulna. Your ulna starts under your humerus. Both bones end at your wrist.

A soft, slippery material called cartilage covers the ends of your bones. This allows them to move against each other with ease. In a normal elbow, all of these parts work together to create an incredible range of motion. But if any of these pieces get diseased or damaged, the normally smooth surface becomes rough. This causes pain.

Elbow replacement is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, broken bones in the elbow, and instability. In some cases, elbow replacement is used to remove cancer in the bone.

Your provider may recommend elbow replacement surgery if any of these conditions make daily activity too painful or difficult.

Before the Procedure

Your provider will explain what happens during elbow replacement surgery. He or she will also talk with you about any risks or complications that may happen.

Your provider will also give you instructions about how to prepare for your surgery. Don't eat or drink anything after midnight the day before your surgery.

If you're a woman, be sure to tell your health care provider if you're pregnant or might be pregnant. Tell your health care provider about all of the medications and supplements you take, if you have any allergies, and ask your doctor ahead of time if there are any medications you should stop taking before your surgery.

You'll be asked to sign a consent form that gives your health care provider permission to do the surgery. Read the form carefully and ask questions if anything is not clear.

What to Expect

During elbow replacement, the surgeon will make a cut at the back of your elbow and gently move the muscles to get to the joint.

He or she will make a canal in your humerus and ulna and insert two metal stems. Bone cement will help hold the two pieces in place.
Once in place, the stems are connected by a hinge pin.

In some cases, a third piece is needed to replace the end of your radius.

After the Procedure

You should be able to go home after a few days. During your hospital stay, you'll get antibiotics to prevent infection and medicines for pain. You may need to continue taking these at home.

Physical therapy is an important part of your recovery. You'll be taught exercises to help control stiffness and swelling.

You will need to limit your activities for at least 6 weeks. You should arrange for help with bathing, getting dressed, cooking, and doing laundry for the first few weeks after your surgery.

Things to Remember

Elbow replacement surgery can help treat arthritis, fractures, elbow instability, and cancer in the bone.

Elbow replacement is when the bones of your elbow joint are replaced with artificial parts.

Exercises and stretching will be an important part of your recovery.

What We Have Learned

Three bones come together at your elbow. True or False? The answer is true. The upper arm bone, or humerus, meets the ulna and radius, or lower arm bones, at the elbow.

Elbow replacement surgery is commonly used to treat carpal tunnel syndrome. True or False? The answer is false. Elbow replacement surgery is most often used to treat arthritis, but can also be used to treat instability, breaks of the elbow, and cancer.