Understanding the Basics Behind Elbow Arthroscopy
What is Elbow Arthroscopy?
Your body relies on many joints to function properly, but sometimes those joints give out from wear and tear.
Pain in the elbow joint can make even everyday tasks more difficult. An elbow arthroscopy in Kansas City from Kansas City Orthopedic Alliance is a safe and effective way to treat elbow issues without the need for an open surgery.
Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure that allows surgeons to see inside the joint. After your initial examination with a KCOA physician, we will recommend the best treatment for your needs. Our practitioners provide the comprehensive care you need so you can return to the activities you enjoy.
Potential indicators that someone may require elbow arthroscopy include:
- Reduced range of motion
- Completely immobile or “locked” joint
Kansas City Orthopedic Alliance Elbow Injuries Assessment
Assessing the Injury
Finding the right elbow treatment in Kansas City starts with an assessment.
You can think of elbow pain as a spectrum, with some instances being more severe than others. The KCOA orthopedic specialists always focus on each individual patient and their concerns before creating a treatment plan.
Therefore, during your initial appointment, we will often ask questions such as:
The answers to these questions help shape the next steps of the assessment process and guide our physical examination. After a proper assessment, we often begin with a physical examination to help determine the origin point of your pain. In some cases, advanced testing may be required for a full diagnosis.
- Does your pain currently limit you or your activities?
- Has your pain progressed or worsened recently?
- Have you experienced any tingling or numbness in your arm or fingers that makes tasks difficult?
- Have you noticed any change in your symptoms that has made it more challenging to function?
- What are your lifestyle goals?
- How has pain affected those goals?
Also called radiographs, an X-ray captures a picture of the hip. Orthopedic physicians may order an X-ray to rule out the possibility of a fracture (broken bone), osteoarthritis, or other hip-related conditions.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
MRI captures images of muscles, bones, intervertebral discs, and tendons to help provide information other tests can’t detail. During an MRI, you will lie on a table that slides into a tube-shaped scanner. The machine creates a magnetic field around you, using pulsed radio waves to form the MRI images.
Electromyograms (EMG) and Nerve Conduction Studies
Our board-certified physiatrists utilize electromyograms (EMGs) and nerve conduction studies to help determine whether nerves and muscles respond properly to stimuli. The EMG measures the electrical activity of your muscles at rest and in motion, while nerve conduction studies determine how fast and effectively your nerves and muscles receive electrical signals.
Establishing a Care Plan
Based on the results of your interview, examination, and imaging studies, you can expect a custom care plan catered specifically to you.
Many people believe it’s best to wait until pain becomes severe, leading them to “put off” or delay treatments like elbow arthroscopy.
If you are in constant discomfort, have shooting or stabbing pains, have limited range of motion, or an inability to perform your daily activities, elbow arthroscopy may be right for you.
New technologies allow patients with elbow pain to fully recover and enjoy the benefits of a more functional, pain-free lifestyle.
Prior to surgery, you will typically receive at least 2 phone calls:
- A hospital registration representative will call to gather insurance and other personal information.
- A registered nurse will call to review your health history and medication information.
Dependent on your health history, your physician may require:
- Pre-surgical laboratory tests
- Primary care clearance
Pre-operative instructions will vary depending on your physician and the location of your surgery.
Always check with your physician prior to surgery.
Most physicians require that patients not eat or drink after midnight prior to surgery the next day.
Additionally, you will need a designated family member or friend to drive you home on the day you are released from the hospital. Surgical patients cannot drive themselves home.
Day of Surgery
If you schedule your surgery with a KCOA physician, you can expect the following on surgery day:
- A receptionist will check you in at the hospital registration desk.
- A nurse will take you back and prepare you for surgery. They will start an IV, prepare the surgical site, and review your medical history and medications.
- Your surgeon and anesthesiologist will visit with you prior to your operation.
- The surgical team will take you to the operation suite for surgery.
How it Works
An elbow arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure that allows surgeons to see inside the joint. The surgeon inserts a small tube with a camera through a minor incision, allowing them to make a more definitive diagnosis, and eliminating the need for a large surgical incision.
We typically use arthroscopy to make a diagnosis when X-rays and other imaging tools do not provide answers. In many cases, KCOA physicians also use arthroscopy to treat orthopedic conditions such as tennis elbow, removal of loose bodies in the joint, scar tissue removal and arthritis
During an elbow arthroscopy in Kansas City, you will remain under general anesthesia. The surgeon fills the elbow joint with fluid and makes several small incisions around the elbow, so they can insert a tiny camera (arthroscope) into the joint, giving them a clear guide for the surgical instruments.
Saline-based fluid flows through the arthroscope to keep the image clear and bleeding minimal. This is quite different from an open surgery, which requires a much larger incision and typically longer recovery times.
After assessing the injury and condition, your surgeon will begin the repair. Elbow arthroscopy gives access to many repair options, like treating tennis elbow, removing inflamed tissue or loose bone fragments and cartilage, releasing scar tissue that is blocking motion, and treating fractures and breaks.
After your surgery, you will remain in the recovery room while our experienced clinical team monitors you, providing pain relief medication, if needed.
Arthroscopy isn’t as invasive as open surgeries, but it may still take from a few weeks to a few months for your elbow joint to fully recover.
You can expect swelling, soreness and bruising in your elbow for several days after surgery. The swelling and discoloration may also spread to your hand or lower arm.
It’s important to keep your arm elevated with an ice pack after surgery to reduce swelling and soreness.
What to Expect
Many patients will be fit with a splint or a sling after surgery. The type of splint and the amount of time you’re instructed to wear the splint depends on the type of procedure performed and your physician’s preferences.
Your treatment team may suggest physical or occupational therapy following your elbow arthroscopy. Therapists help patients regain their range of motion, function and strength while also providing guidance on self-care and home exercises.
We recommend regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and monitoring your blood sugar levels if you’re diabetic.
In doing so, you may reduce the amount of stress on your joints to slow down any potential degenerative process.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Elbow Injuries
With so many different parts working together in your elbow, there are many potential causes of elbow pain. And each of those causes has a unique set of symptoms.
Elbow injuries often cause a numbness or tingling sensation in your arm, which can slow your arm function down and make tasks more difficult. When a patient visits one of our KCOA offices, a skilled orthopedic specialist will ask you questions regarding your symptoms, what aggravates/alleviates your symptoms, and whether you have attempted prior therapies. Next comes a thorough physical exam. We will then review any images you bring with you and/or take new images. After determining the cause of your pain, we can then discuss if elbow arthroscopy will work best for your needs.
Causes of Elbow Pain
The body has different kinds of joints, and they all face different challenges. The elbow is a complex joint that connects 3 different bones: the humerus (upper arm), ulna (pinky side forearm), and radius (thumb side forearm). Covering the surface where these bones meet is articular cartilage, a smooth substance that protects the joint by cushioning and absorbing forces.
On the inside and outside of this joint are ligaments that hold the elbow together and prevent dislocation. Muscles also surround the elbow on the front and back sides, and there are 3 major nerves that cross the elbow joint.
Elbow pain can come from a variety of issues with any of these working parts of the joint. Most elbow pain stems from overuse, either in a sport or other repetitive movements that cause strain on the joint.
Surgery, even minimally invasive ones like elbow arthroscopy, isn’t necessarily the first choice. Kansas City Orthopedic Alliance physicians prefer a more conservative approach to treatment, so we will typically exhaust all non-surgical options before recommending surgery. Non-surgical treatments for shoulder injuries include:
Physical Therapy – Seeking out guidance from a trained therapist to help restore function and strength is often a preferred treatment. Therapists are experts in the musculoskeletal system and their ability to assist with manual techniques or exercise instruction can lead to excellent outcomes.
Medications – At times, the pain becomes too much and hinders movement. In those instances, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Advil) or prescription medications. Especially with NSAIDs, you should always talk to your doctor to ensure they are the right treatment for you. Side effects can include stomach irritation, ulcers, or even kidney damage. Reasonable dosing and monitoring can help alleviate those side effects.
Injections – Cortisone injections can help with inflammation, and the effects tend to last for 3 to 6 months before you might need another one. Many people manage their pain with injections and exercise.
Regenerative Medicines – Regenerative medicines like stem cell injections or platelet-rich plasma can help nourish worn or damaged tissue. This option works best if you have mild-to-moderate hip pain.
Frequently Asked Questions
Kansas City Orthopedic Alliance is here to help.
Our care is personal. Our team is knowledgeable. And we’re more available than ever.
With access to board-certified specialists across Kansas City, we have the tools to meet almost every musculoskeletal condition.
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