An Overview of Arthroscopic Elbow Surgery

Arthroscopic elbow surgery is the most common procedure performed to treat elbow injuries and degenerative conditions. Using the arthroscopic surgery technique, Dr. Peter Millett is able to operate on the elbow joint using 2-3 tiny incisions rather than a large one. The small holes that are made allow an arthroscope (telescope with a camera) to enter through the incision, providing a clear and accurate view of the injury and damaged cartilage and tendons allowing the proper surgical instruments to be placed into the joint. Once inside, Dr. Millett uses these instruments to remove loose bodies and repair damaged cartilage.

Almost all of the arthroscopic procedures that Dr. Millett performs are performed under general anesthesia on an out-patient basis.  Since muscles and tendons are not cut, there is less post-operative pain and swelling and the patient is able to heal and recover rapidly.

Arthroscopic elbow surgery is used to treat a variety of injuries and conditions associated with the elbow, including:

Are you a candidate for arthroscopic elbow surgery?

There are two ways to initiate a consultation with Dr. Millett:

You can provide current X-rays and/or MRIs for a clinical case review ($250).

You can schedule an office consultation with Dr. Millett.

Arthroscopic Elbow Surgery Recovery

Following your arthroscopic elbow surgery, you will be allowed to do moderate activity, however, there are also some things that we recommend you NOT do.  It is crucial that you understand the healing process and you participate in your post-operative recovery so you do not injure or damage the tissues that were repaired during surgery.  Below is a checklist of what to expect.

  • It is normal to have swelling and discomfort in the elbow for several days and up to a week following your arthroscopic elbow surgery. Apply ice bags 20-30 minutes at a time, every hour or so.  Use a thin cloth to avoid burning the skin. Icing is most important in the first 48 hours, although many people find that continuing it lessens their post-operative pain.
  • If swelling and pain keep increasing many days after surgery, and you develop a new fever, please call our office immediately.
  • Keep the post-op dressing clean and dry. Unless it becomes wet or too tight because of swelling, leave the bandages in place for at least 2 days, then remove them. Cover the small incisions with waterproof bandages to keep them dry. You may shower, but keep the incisions dry for the first 10-14 days. Do not wet your incisions directly or by submerging (bathing or swimming) until at least 2 weeks post-op.
  • The sutures are absorbable and do not need to be removed.
  • After your elbow surgery, we would like to see you back in the office within 10 days. If you don’t have your first post-operative visit scheduled, call our office to make one.
  • Start your post-operative rehabilitation/physical therapy right away. Your physical therapy program is key to a successful outcome. It should be started the day after surgery. A separate prescription will outline the protocol.
  • Be in the care of a responsible adult.
  • Abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages and from smoking, as these behaviors can impact recovery and delay healing.
  • You may eat a regular diet, if not nauseated. Drink plenty of non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated fluids.
  • Plan to take a few days off work.

Complications and Outcomes

Complications from arthroscopic elbow surgery are very rare. Like with any surgery there are some risks such as infection, nerve injury, or blood vessel injury. Dr. Millett will discuss the potential risks with you prior to surgery. Since arthroscopic elbow surgery can be used to treat many conditions, outcomes may vary. For minor procedures, you will be able to return to work or school within a few days. For more extensive procedures, recovery may take longer. Dr. Millett will discuss in-depth with you what to expect from your procedure.

Rehabilitation Following Arthroscopic Elbow Surgery

It is important to follow the arthroscopic rehabilitation regimen that is set forth by Dr. Millett and by your physical therapist. Arthroscopic surgery is a partnership between the doctor and patient.  The results of the surgery are most effective when a post-operative rehabilitation program involving physical therapy and exercises are implemented daily.

We have put together some guidelines for patients who have undergone arthroscopic surgery. These guidelines are broken down into various rehabilitation phases. Please refer to the Patient Resources section on this website to view a complete and printable version of the rehabilitation program.

For additional information on arthroscopic elbow surgery, please contact the orthopedic office of Dr. Peter Millett.