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Elbow Arthroscopy

The elbow is a complex joint containing three bones, articular cartilage at the ends of these bones, ligaments that hold the joint together to prevent dislocation, as well as nerves and muscles which ensure elbow stability and function. Arthroscopy is valuable to evaluate the elbow joint and treat cartilage and soft tissue injuries.

What is elbow arthroscopy?

Elbow arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure used to diagnose and treat certain problems in the elbow joint. The procedure is performed using an arthroscope, a thin, flexible tube with a video camera on the end that is inserted into the joint through a small incision. The camera images of the inside of the joint are displayed on a video screen. When instruments are needed, additional tiny incisions are made in which tiny instruments are inserted and guided under direct visualization to treat elbow conditions.

Elbow arthroscopy allows Dr. Petrigliano to have unobstructed vision of the inside of the joint. This permits him to evaluate all elbow structures, and accurately diagnose injury and damage to the joint. He can perform surgery to relieve symptoms caused by injury and damage to the bones, cartilage, and other soft tissues in the joint without the need to perform open surgery in most cases. Sometimes elbow arthroscopy is used in addition to open surgery.

Elbow arthroscopy is the preferred technique to treat intraarticular (inside the joint) conditions. Advantages include clear direct visualization of the inside of the joint to diagnose and treat elbow conditions even in difficult to reach anatomy.

When is elbow arthroscopy recommended?

Dr. Petrigliano may recommend arthroscopy when you have painful elbow conditions that do not respond to nonsurgical treatment including rest, icing, physical therapy, medication, or injections to decrease inflammation.

What does elbow arthroscopy treat?

Elbow arthroscopy can be employed to treat several elbow conditions, including trauma as well as general wear and tear. Common conditions include:

  • Tendonitis such as tennis or golfer’s elbow
  • Arthritis
  • Impingement
  • Loose bodies (cartilage and bone fragments)
  • Bone spur removal
  • Cartilage repair and transplantation
  • Ligament repair
  • Diseases of elbow articular cartilage and bone in teen athletes (osteochondritis dissecans)

What are the benefits of elbow arthroscopy?

Elbow arthroscopy offers significant diagnostic value and can reveal injuries that may be missed with X-rays, CT scans and MRIs such as ligament damage, loose bodies, and cartilage lesions. This makes it especially valuable to diagnose and treat elbow damage in athletes who desire to minimize rehabilitation and inactivity.

Elbow arthroscopy is easier and less invasive than traditional open surgery, which means there is:

  • less trauma
  • less joint stiffness
  • less damage to soft tissues
  • better joint visualization
  • reduced postoperative pain
  • less bleeding
  • decreased risk of infection, and
  • minimizes rehabilitation and inactivity.

Elbow arthroscopy is usually performed under general anesthesia. Regional anesthesia may be provided in recovery to treat post operative pain. Elbow arthroscopy is a safe and effective way to treat elbow problems.

What are the risks of elbow arthroscopy?

As with any surgical procedure, there are risks associated with elbow arthroscopy. These risks include infection, bleeding, and nerve damage. However, these risks are rare, and the procedure is generally safe and complication-free.

Preparing for elbow arthroscopy surgery

Before any surgery, Dr. Petrigliano will review your medical history. You may be asked to stop taking certain medications like blood thinners before surgery. You will receive blood tests, an electrocardiogram and or chest x-rays to ensure you are healthy to undergo surgery. Healthy patients can receive arthroscopic surgery as an outpatient procedure.

After arthroscopy your tiny incisions will be closed with a stitch or surgical tape. You may awake with a plaster splint to protect the elbow. You will go home after a few hours in recovery. You will receive discharge instructions about how to care for your elbow and mediations you will need during recovery. Generally, it will take anywhere from a few weeks to months to recover.

At a Glance

Dr. Frank Petrigliano

  • Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at USC
  • Chief of the Epstein Family Center for Sports Medicine
  • Team physician for the LA Kings and USC Athletics
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