The elbow joint is a hinged joint where the upper arm bone (humerus) meets the two forearm bones (ulna and radius). The main stabilizing structure of the elbow joint is the ligament along the inner aspect of the elbow (medial collateral ligament.) The unique anatomy of the elbow joint allows it to pass through a broad range of motion. During repetitive overhead and lifting sports and occupations, the elbow experiences tremendous stress. This may lead to the formation of small loose fragments of cartilage or bone (loose bodies) or elbow joint spurs.
Arthroscopic surgery of the elbow is challenging because of the joint’s anatomy. The bones lie close together, and nerves and blood vessels are located very close to the joint (see illustration). Therefore, the doctor must be especially careful when inserting the arthroscopic instruments into the joint.
Although it is a difficult procedure, arthroscopic surgery is often the ideal choice for treating certain elbow conditions. An injury or arthritis can damage the ends of the bones and cause bone spurs to develop. These spurs can be painful and make it hard to move the elbow. The doctor can remove the spurs by using special tools, such as a burr, inserted into the joint through the portals or small incisions. After the spurs are removed, the elbow moves more easily and with less pain.
An elbow arthroscopy introduces an arthroscope (small ‘telescope’) into the elbow joint through several small 2-3 millimeter incisions.
The arthroscope is used to identify the location of the loose bodies and the spurs.
The loose bodies can be removed by using the arthroscope in addition to small grasping instruments. The bone spurs can be removed by visualizing the spur with the arthroscope and using a small burr to remove the spur.
These elbow arthroscopic procedures take about 30-90 minutes and are done on an day-case basis (without an overnight stay in the hospital).