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Elbow surgery

Expert treatment for problems and injuries of the elbow.

Close up view of man holding onto his painful elbow
The musculoskeletal system is a complex network of bones, muscles and connective tissues that give our body form and movement.

Whether it is general wear and tear, or an accident that results in an injury, each element of the musculoskeletal system can potentially become damaged, limiting its function and affecting our quality of life.

The elbow joint is no exception. Circle Health Group orthopaedic teams can help to resolve any issues affecting your elbow joint, including providing elbow surgery if or when this is required.

If you are in London and need elbow surgery, the specialist orthopaedic team at The London Independent Hospital can provide the highest levels of care and treatment that will help relieve your symptoms and restore your quality of life.

Please note that some of the details on this page are specific to The London Independent Hospital in Stepney Green, East London. If you live somewhere else in the UK and would like to know more about elbow surgery, you can find your local Circle Health Group hospital on this page.

The elbow is a fairly complex joint that is formed by three bones. These are:

  • The upper arm bone, called the humerus
  • The forearm bone on the outside of the hand (the pinky finger side), called the ulna
  • The forearm bone on the inside of the hand (thumb side) called the radius

Like all other bones, the ends of each of the bones in the elbow are covered with cartilage that protects them and helps to absorb impacts across the joint.

The elbow also contains something called the synovial membrane, which covers all remaining surfaces inside the elbow joint and which makes a small amount of fluid to lubricate the cartilage and reduce friction when you use the joint. And of course, ligaments help to hold the joint together when it is in motion.

There is a huge range of different problems that can affect the elbow. Some are single injuries that happen as a result of a specific event, while others are longer-term conditions that may require ongoing medical care to keep your symptoms manageable.

Nevertheless, there are some elbow conditions and injuries that are more common than others. Here are some of the most common elbow issues seen at The London Independent Hospital.

Dislocations

A dislocation occurs when one of the bones within the joint comes out of place, and this is usually the result of a blunt force trauma such as a fall. You don’t need to fall directly onto the elbow either. If you put your hand out to catch yourself, the force of the impact onto your hand could force either of the forearm bones out of place.

Fractures

Any of the three bones in the elbow could suffer a fracture in an accident. However, unlike some other types of breaks, fractured elbow bones don’t necessarily prevent you from moving the joint afterwards. This can make elbow fractures tricky to detect.

Bursitis

Bursitis is a type of repetitive strain injury, although you can also develop the condition from an infection. In bursitis, the small fluid-filled sacs called bursae that are found in the elbow get swollen and cause you pain. Usually, medication and rest help to resolve bursitis, but in some cases, the bursa may need to be surgically removed.

Tennis/golfer’s elbow

You’ve probably heard of both of these types of repetitive strain injury, which refer to damage to the tendons around your elbow. The type of movement you make to cause them affects which name they are given, but you don’t have to play sport to experience either.

Tennis elbow refers to damage to the tendon on the outside of your elbow, while golfer’s elbow refers to the tendons on the inside.

Osteoarthritis

This very common degenerative condition can affect any joints in the body, including the elbow. Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage protecting the bones within a joint starts to break down, making it less effective at reducing friction. As a result, the joint becomes stiffer and more painful to use.

Some patients also suffer from another type of arthritis called rheumatoid arthritis. This is where their immune system attacks their healthy cells, causing inflammation and pain.

Elbow injuries can be caused by many different things, but the vast majority are caused by overuse.

These types of injuries are usually referred to as repetitive strain injuries — or RSIs for short. They take their name from the repetitive movements that the patients who suffer from them make, usually either at work or in their recreational activities.

Repetitive movements accelerate the wear and tear on the tendons and ligaments which support the inside and outside of the elbow joint, particularly if the movement is weight-bearing or involves exerting a force to counteract another force (like hitting a fast-moving ball).

Some of the most common sports that can cause elbow injuries include:

  • Golf
  • Tennis
  • Squash
  • Bowling
  • Martial arts
  • Weight/resistance training

Some of the most common other activities that can lead to elbow injuries include:

  • Painting
  • Office work (using a mouse or typing)
  • Carpentry
  • Knitting/crocheting
  • Automobile repairs
  • Playing a musical instrument
  • Gardening

If you regularly perform any of these activities, you could be increasing your risk of elbow injury in the future.

Some of the symptoms most often associated with elbow injuries and conditions include, but aren’t limited to, the following:

  • Pain when you are resting your elbow
  • Pain when you are making a fist
  • Pain when you are opening the fingers
  • Soreness around the point of the elbow
  • Swelling and inflammation around the elbow
  • Redness or skin that is hot to the touch
  • Obvious, visible deformity
  • Difficulty moving the elbow normally
  • Numbness, tingling or other sensations in the lower arm and hand
  • Weakness in the lower arm and hand

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you could have an issue with your elbow joint.

It is best to speak to your GP service or schedule an appointment with an orthopaedic consultant at The London Independent Hospital to find out the cause and which treatments could help.

Diagnosing an elbow injury or condition is usually a multi-step process that requires a combination of physical examination and specific imaging tests. These could include x-rays, CT scanning or even an MRI scan.

Your London Independent Hospital orthopaedic surgery team will want to talk to you about your medical history and your lifestyle. This will help them not only diagnose your condition, but also understand why you may be suffering from a particular injury or condition in the first place. This information could be valuable in preventing further problems in the future and in deciding whether you need elbow surgery.

As with most other types of surgery, elbow surgery is usually only recommended when medications and other measures are no longer successful in relieving the pain or other symptoms that you are experiencing. Less invasive medical options to improve your pain will be suggested and tried in the first instance.

When you visit The London Independent Hospital, you will benefit from the knowledge, expertise and experience of a dedicated orthopaedic team throughout your care.

Our specialist team of elbow surgeons and experts have been treating elbow conditions for many years.

Preparation is an important step in any surgery. Knowing what to expect and how to get your mind and body ready for your procedure can help minimise the risk of complications during your surgery and afterwards. It can also help you to feel calmer and more reassured about your surgery.

The exact guidance you may be given will depend on the type of surgery you are having and your personal circumstances.

However, some general advice to help you to prepare for your surgery may include:

  • Stop taking any medications as advised by your surgical team
  • Preparing your home for your return. This may mean filling your freezer with meals or arranging for someone to come in and help with housework
  • Staying as active as you can. This will help keep the muscles around your elbow strong, which will help aid your recovery following surgery
  • Preparing yourself mentally for time away from certain physical activities. It can take up to a year before you are recovered enough to take part in some types of sports

You will be asked to attend a pre-operative appointment around a week before your surgery to ensure that you are physically and mentally ready for your surgery.

You’ll undergo a physical exam, and a member of your surgical team will speak to you about what to expect on the day of your surgery, and afterwards. They will be able to answer any questions that you have.

There are many different types of elbow surgery and so exactly what will happen during your elbow surgery will depend on the type that you have. However, wherever possible, surgery will be carried out arthroscopically.

This is a minimally invasive technique that enables surgeons to avoid making a large incision in your arm.

Instead, several very small incisions are made, through which instruments will be inserted to perform your surgery. These will include a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera at the end which will feed back real-time images so that your surgical team can see what they are doing, as well as the surgical instruments themselves.

The arthroscopic technique has been proven to reduce risks during surgery, post-operative pain and scarring.

Types of elbow surgery

Some of the most common elbow surgery procedures include:

  • Lateral epicondylitis; treatment for tennis elbow
  • Removal of loose cartilage and bone fragments
  • Release of scar tissue (which improves your range of motion)
  • Techniques designed to improve the symptoms of osteoarthritis, such as removing synovial fluid within the joint
  • Medial epicondylitis; treatment for golfer’s elbow
  • Repairing damaged ligaments
  • Decompression of the ulnar nerve fracture treatment
  • Full or partial elbow joint replacement

Tennis elbow surgery

In cases where tennis elbow has not responded to other treatments, tennis elbow surgery can be done as a traditional open surgery or keyhole surgery.

This will depend on your surgeon’s recommendations and your preference.

During tennis elbow surgery, the orthopaedic surgeon removes the damaged part of the tendon and repairs the tendon and ligaments where necessary, They will also treat any other associated pathologies in the joint.

Just like any other surgery, there are risks associated with surgeries associated with the elbow. These will be explained to you by your orthopaedic surgeon ahead of your procedure, but could include and may not be limited to:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Blood clots in the lungs or legs
  • Trouble urinating
  • Reaction to anaesthesia
  • Continued pain or stiffness
  • Your graft failing to heal well
  • Graft failure

The risks of surgery are always assessed at the consultation stage, meaning that your London Independent Hospital orthopaedic surgeon will use their extensive training and experience to determine that the risks of the surgery are considerably outweighed by the benefits of undergoing elbow surgery. 

The good news is that wherever possible, elbow surgery will be performed as a day case, meaning that you can go home the very same day as your procedure. In rare cases, patients may be asked to stay overnight so that the initial stages of their recovery can be closely monitored, and you can be provided with adequate pain medication.

If your elbow surgery has been performed, arthroscopically it will reduce the risk of complications and scarring and is proven to result in less post-operative pain.

However, although elbow surgery can be performed in this way, it can still take time to heal and recover fully from your procedure.

How long is recovery from elbow surgery?

Most patients can expect to return to their usual daily activities within two to six weeks, and back to work within three to ten weeks depending on their job role. Nevertheless, it can take as long as a year to heal from some types of severe trauma to the elbow. 

As with any recovery from surgery, it’s crucial that you follow the advice and guidance given to you by your care team, which will include vital information such as when to take pain medication and when to return to work. Following this advice will help ensure that you minimise your risk of complications and recover as quickly as possible.

When it comes to getting back to your chosen sport, exactly how long you’ll have to wait will weigh heavily on your recovery process and how good you are at following the instructions given to you by your orthopaedic surgeon.

It’s important that you don’t try to significantly increase your physical activity levels until you’ve been given the express permission of your elbow surgery care team. Doing so could cause new injuries that could set your recovery back further.

When can I drive after elbow surgery?

The minimally invasive techniques used to perform elbow surgery mean that patients can get back to their usual activities more quickly than they might expect.

Most patients find that they can start driving again after around four weeks, but this really depends on the type of elbow surgery you’ve had and how well your body recovers. If you’ve had a tendon or ligament repair, it could take up to eight weeks to heal properly. 

Will I be in pain after my elbow surgery?

It probably comes as no surprise that pain and discomfort rank as one of the biggest concerns of orthopaedic surgery patients. However, like most other orthopaedic procedures, the discomfort you are likely to experience following elbow surgery will be fairly minimal.

The effects of your general anaesthetic could last for up to 24 hours following your surgery, and you will be prescribed some initial pain medication to keep you comfortable. However, most patients quickly learn to cope by taking a combination of anti-inflammatory medications (which also help to tackle swelling and associated pain) and paracetamol-based products.

Prescription pain relief is rarely needed, but if you find that you are in considerable discomfort following your surgery and over-the-counter pain relief isn’t effective, speak to your London elbow surgery care team to see what help is available.

All orthopaedic surgery patients will be referred for physiotherapy at some stage of their treatment plan, and patients who have undergone elbow surgery are no exception.

Physiotherapy focuses on restoring and improving the function of the musculoskeletal system by building and strengthening the muscles, increasing flexibility and range of motion and preventing future injury. It does so through a combination of physical exercises, nutrition, and lifestyle advice.

One of the biggest mistakes made by orthopaedic surgery patients is not completing their at-home physiotherapy exercises recommended by their therapist or cutting their physiotherapy treatment plan short because they ‘feel better’.

However, orthopaedic consultants recommend that all elbow surgery patients follow their treatment plan as directed to reduce their risk of complications and accelerate their recovery.

Got a question we haven’t answered? The specialist elbow surgery team at The London Independent Hospital will be happy to answer any questions that you have and explain what you can expect from your recovery in greater detail.

Elbow conditions and injuries can be painful and debilitating.

Fortunately, orthopaedic care including elbow surgery from the highly trained, skilled and experienced team at The London Independent Hospital can relieve your symptoms and restore your quality of life.

Contact us today to discuss your elbow pain and see how we can help — you can book an appointment online today or call us at 020 3918 7108.

How to find us

The London Independent Hospital can be found at 1 Beaumont Square, Stepney Green, London, E1 4NL. It is accessible by bus, tube (Stepney Green) and a car park with 30 spaces.

We look forward to welcoming you to The London Independent Hospital.

Specialists offering Elbow surgery

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Mr Dimitrios Karadaglis

Consultant Orthopaedic & Trauma Surgeon

MRCS, MSc, Dip Orth, FRCS(Tr&Orth)

The Blackheath Hospital 2 more The London Independent Hospital The Sloane Hospital

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Mr Amer Khan

Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon

BSc(Hons) MB BS FRCSEd FRCS(Tr&Orth)

The London Independent Hospital

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Mr Ziali Sivardeen

Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon

BMEDSCI, BMBS, AFRCS, FRCS (TR AND ORTH)

The London Independent Hospital

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Mr Jagwant Singh

Consultant Orthopaedic, Trauma & Specialist Upper limb Surgeon

MBBS, MRCS, FRCS (Tr & Orth)

The Blackheath Hospital 1 more The London Independent Hospital

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Mr Ali Noorani

Consultant Trauma & Orthopaedic Surgeon Upper Limb (Shoulder & Elbow)

MBBS BSc (Hons) MRCS FRCS (Trauma & Orth)

The London Independent Hospital

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