Elbow arthritis

Elbow Arthritis

Introduction

Elbow joint replacement (also called elbow arthroplasty) can effectively treat the problems caused by arthritis of the elbow. The procedure is also becoming more widely used in aging adults to replace joints damaged by fractures. The artificial elbow is considered successful by more than 90 percent of patients who have elbow joint replacement.

Assessing Symptoms
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The most common symptoms of hip arthritis are:

  • Pain
  • Loss of range of motion

Both of these symptoms may not occur at the same time. Patients usually report a “grating” or “locking” sensation in the elbow. The “grating” is due to loss of the normal smooth joint surface. This is caused by cartilage damage or wear. The “locking” is caused by loose pieces of cartilage or bone that dislodge from the joint and become trapped between the moving joint surfaces, blocking motion. Joint swelling may also occur, but this does not usually happen at first. Swelling occurs later, as the disease progresses.

Anatomy

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How does the elbow joint work?

The elbow joint is made up of three bones: the humerus bone of the upper arm, and the ulna and radius bones of the forearm.

The ulna and the humerus meet at the elbow and form a hinge. This hinge allows the arm to straighten and bend. The large triceps muscle in the back of the arm attaches to the point of the ulna (the olecranon). When this muscle contracts, it straightens out the elbow. The biceps muscles in the front of the arm contracts to bend the elbow.

Inside the elbow joint, the bones are covered with articular cartilage. Articular cartilage is a slick, smooth material. It protects the bone ends from friction when they rub together as the elbow moves. Articular cartilage is soft enough to act as a shock absorber. It is also tough enough to last a lifetime, if it is not injured.

Need For Replacement Surgery

Elbow replacement surgery is performed when other interventions will not offer a satisfactory outcome.

Underlying pathology includes:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
  • Complex fracture of the elbow, even in the elderly.
  • Severely damaged or torn soft tissues in the elbow resulting in instability.
  • Malignancy in or around the elbow.
  • Poor results from previous elbow surgery.
About Surgery

Most elbow replacement surgeries are done under general anesthesia. General anesthesia puts you to sleep. In some cases surgery is done with regional anesthesia, which deadens only the nerves of the arm. If you use regional anesthesia, you may also get medications to help you drift off to sleep, so you are not aware of the surgery.

After the anesthesia, the surgeon makes an incision in the back of the elbow joint. The incision is made on the back side because most of the blood vessels and nerves are on the inside of the elbow. Entering from the back side helps prevent damage to them.

The tendons and ligaments are then moved out of the way. Care must be taken to move the ulnar nerve, which runs along the elbow to the hand.

Once the joint is exposed, the first step is to remove the joint surfaces of the ulna and the radius. This is usually done with a surgical saw. The surgeon then uses a special rasp to hollow out the marrow space within the ulna to hold the metal stem of the ulnar component. The ulnar component is then inserted into the bone to test the fit. If necessary, the surgeon will use the rasp to reshape the hole in the ulna When the ulnar component has been fitted correctly, the surgeon repeats the procedure on the humerus.

After the humeral component has been fitted, the surgeon puts together the pieces of the implant and checks to see if the hinge is working correctly. The implant is then removed, and the bone is prepared to cement it in place. The pieces are cemented in place and put together. After another check for proper fit and motion, the surgeon sews up the incision.

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