An elbow replacement is usually suitable for people who have arthritis. If you suffer severe pain, stiffness and disability, an elbow replacement should reduce your pain and help you to move your arm more easily.

Are there any alternatives to a total elbow replacement?

Simple painkillers such as paracetamol and anti-inflammatory painkillers such as ibuprofen can help control the pain. Supplements to your diet may also help relieve your symptoms. You should check with your doctor before you take supplements.

Regular moderate exercise can help to reduce stiffness in your elbow.

A steroid injection into your elbow can sometimes reduce pain and stiffness.

Sometimes it is possible to have a smaller operation to remove inflamed tissue.

All these measures become less effective as your arthritis gets worse.

What does the operation involve?

A variety of anaesthetic techniques is possible. The operation usually takes between one and two hours.

Your surgeon will make a cut on the back of your elbow joint and remove the damaged joint surfaces. They will then replace these with an artificial elbow joint made with metal, plastic, ceramic, or a combination of these materials (see figure 1). The elbow replacement is fixed into the bone using acrylic cement.

What complications can happen?

General complications

  • Pain
  • Bleeding
  • Infection of the surgical site (wound)
  • Unsightly scarring
  • Blood clots
  • Chest infection
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke

Specific complications

  • Damage to nerves
  • Infection
  • Loosening
  • Dislocation
  • Fracture
  • Severe pain, stiffness and loss of use of the hand (complex regional pain syndrome)

How soon will I recover?

You should be able to go home after two to five days.

You will need to use a support for the elbow for six weeks.

Regular exercise should help you to return to normal activities as soon as possible. Before you start exercising, you should ask a member of the healthcare team or your GP for advice.

Most people make a good recovery, have less pain and can move their elbow better. An artificial elbow never feels quite the same as a normal elbow. It is unlikely that you will be able to fully straighten your elbow.

An elbow replacement can wear out with time.

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Elbow replacement (total)

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This document is intended for information purposes only and should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.

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The operation and treatment information on this webpage is produced using information from EIDO Healthcare Ltd and is licensed by the Horder Centre. The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.

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