Risks of Elbow Replacement Surgery
The most common complications of elbow replacement include:
- Injury to nerves and blood vessels
- Allergic reaction to the artificial joint
- Stiffness or instability of the joint
- Loosening or wearing of the artificial parts
- Triceps tendon weakness or failure
- Need for additional surgeries
The procedure also is associated with the typical risks for any anesthesia, such as allergic reaction to medicines and breathing problems. There are also the typical risks for any surgery, such as bleeding and blood clots.
What to Expect Before and After Elbow Replacement Surgery
Prior to surgery, you should stop smoking and address any existing medical problems. Any active infection must be treated before surgery.
You also should inform your surgeon about all of your health issues. That includes allergies, alcohol use, and use of prescription and non-prescription medications, vitamins, supplements, and herbs.
Elbow replacement is a major two-hour procedure. It's performed under general anesthesia or nerve-block anesthesia. After the joint is implanted, the wound is closed with stitches and a bandage is applied. Your arm may be placed in a splint to keep it stable, and you'll be hospitalized for up to four days.
Because elbow replacement involves cutting skin, tendons, and bone, you'll need strong pain medications after surgery. You'll also need to take pain medications for one to two weeks after you're out of the hospital.
You should be prepared to be less functional than usual for six to 12 weeks after elbow replacement. For instance, you won't be able to lift anything heavier than a cup of coffee for six weeks after surgery. If you live alone or lack available help, you'll need to make arrangements for home help ahead of time.
Elbow replacement may or may not be covered by insurance. Your surgeon's office can tell you how much of the cost -- including the surgeon's fee and hospital fee -- will be covered by your policy.
Recovery From Elbow Replacement Surgery
You will learn simple exercises and other types of physical therapy to increase your arm's strength and mobility. Typical range-of-motion exercises include bending, straightening, palm down, and palm up exercises.
You can expect to have some use of your new elbow as soon as 12 weeks after surgery. But it can take up to a year for full recovery.
Elbow replacement usually reduces pain and improves elbow function during sleep and activities of daily living. Keep in mind, though, that the procedure cannot make the joint as good as it was before being damaged by disease or injury.
Properly caring for your new elbow means avoiding activities that can cause further injury, such as hammering, chopping wood, playing contact sports, and lifting heavy weights. If you do take care of your elbow, though, you can expect to enjoy the benefits of surgery for decades.