Elbow Arthroscopy

Elbow injuries are common, especially among athletes such as tennis players. Elbow arthroscopy is a procedure used to diagnose and treat problems inside the elbow joint. It can help ease symptoms and improve mobility in conditions ranging from arthritis and sports injuries to fractures and infection.

Why is my doctor recommending an elbow athroscopy?

The Omaha Shoulder & Elbow Orthopedic Specialists at MD West ONE can properly recommend if an elbow arthroscopy is the best course of action based on your symptoms and situation. If you have the following symptoms, you may want to make an appointment with one of our Board Certified Specialists.

  • pain
  • stiffness
  • swelling
  • loss of motion in your elbow joint

Elbow arthroscopy can diagnose and treat issues caused by:

  • Age-related wear and tear
  • Injury, including sports injuries
  • Overuse

You may be more at risk for conditions that require an elbow arthroscopy if you are an athlete or throw and use your arms in repetitive motions. You are also more at risk if you suffer from arthritis.

What conditions can elbow arthroscopy treat?

An elbow arthroscopy procedure can treat a range of conditions and injuries that affect the elbow joint. It is much less invasive than elbow replacement surgery.

Your provider may use elbow arthroscopy to treat conditions and injuries such as:

Loose bone and cartilage (osteochondritis dissecans)


Elbow fractures

Permanently tensed muscles (contractures)

Rheumatoid arthritis

Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis)

Infection (septic arthritis)

Inflammation (synovitis)

Scar tissue that limits mobility (adhesions)

Dislocated elbow

Pitcher's elbow (valgus extension overload syndrome)


Your healthcare provider may recommend this minimally invasive procedure if you don't get relief from nonsurgical treatments such as:

  • Rest
  • Physical therapy
  • Medications
  • Braces or splints
  • Steroid injections


Elbow arthroscopy is typically an outpatient procedure which means you can expect to go home the same day. Since you will receive anesthesia, it is important to arrange for someone to take you home and remain with you for the rest of the day as you recover.

What happens during an elbow arthroscopy procedure?

During the procedure, your surgeon:

  • Fills the affected elbow joint with saline fluid to see more clearly and reduce risk to surrounding tissue, blood vessels, and nerves.
  • Makes a few tiny incisions in the treatment area.
  • Inserts small surgical tools, including an instrument with a camera and light on the end (arthroscope) to view inside your elbow joint.

At this point:

  • If you are having elbow arthroscopy to diagnose a problem, your surgeon may perform a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.
  • If you are having elbow arthroscopy to treat a condition or injury, your surgeon will perform the procedure.
  • After the arthroscopy, your surgeon closes the incisions with stitches or staples and uses a bandage, dressing, or splint to cover and protect them.

What to Expect

The benefits of arthroscopy are smaller incisions, faster healing, a more rapid recovery, a shorter rehabilitation period, and less scarring. Arthroscopic surgical procedures are often performed on an outpatient basis and the patient is able to return home on the same day.

After Surgery

In most cases, you can go home within a couple of hours after the procedure. When you do go home, incision care is very important. You may need to:

  • Ice and elevate your elbow.
  • Keep the incision clean, dry, and covered.
  • Take NSAIDs to relieve pain.
  • Wash in the shower, not bathe, until the incision heals.
  • Wear a sling, splint or brace.

When should I know the results of elbow arthroscopy?

If you had a biopsy, you should receive results in several days. If your surgeon used arthroscopy to treat an elbow condition, they can typically tell you that day about how it went. Keep all follow-up appointments, so your surgeon can check on your progress.


When can I return to my regular activities after elbow arthroscopy?

Your recovery after elbow arthroscopy depends on the condition of your joint and the extent of the damage. It also depends on whether your surgeon treated the elbow during the procedure.

You may experience some pain and discomfort for several weeks after surgery. Most people can return to school or work within a few days. Full recovery may take many months. Talk to your healthcare provider about when it's safe to return to the activities you enjoy.

Will I need physical therapy after elbow arthroscopy?

Your healthcare provider may recommend exercises to prevent joint stiffness and reduce swelling. Physical therapy may also help strengthen muscles and restore mobility.

Risks and Complications

Arthroscopy is a relatively safe procedure. But the elbow is a small area, containing bone, muscle, blood vessels and nerves. Surgeons use arthroscopy less often to treat the elbow than for other, larger joints, such as the knee and shoulder.

Potential complications include:

Allergic reaction to anesthesia.

Blood clot, including deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

Damage to nearby tissue or nerves.

Excessive bleeding or swelling.


Nerve irritation or injury.

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