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Elbow arthroscopy (keyhole) surgery

Elbow arthroscopy is keyhole surgery to investigate problems in your joint and can also be used to treat various conditions

Elbow arthroscopy is a type of minimally invasive orthopaedic surgery used to diagnose and treat a range of conditions and problems with your elbow.

Your elbow is a hinged joint providing your arm with flexibility and durability, allowing it to move backward, forwards, up and down, and in a rotating motion. It is made up of three bones: the humerus, ulna, and radius. The ends of these are covered with cartilage that allows them to slide against one another easily, protecting them from grating against one another and deteriorating.

If your elbow is damaged in some way, for example if the cartilage breaks down, the joint can become severely painful, swollen, and stiff, and you might hear a clicking sound when you move your elbow.

An elbow arthroscopy helps examine inside your elbow to check what is causing your symptoms, for example whether you have cartilage damage, or if it's a different problem causing elbow pain and other distressing symptoms. In many cases, your surgeon will also be able to perform treatment during the arthroscopy, for example repairing injuries or removing excess tissues.

Elbow arthroscopy at Circle Health Group

At Circle Health Group, we have a network of dedicated orthopaedic surgeons highly skilled in delivering elbow arthroscopies. They are supported by multidisciplinary teams of healthcare professionals, including pain management specialists and physiotherapists, to help you recover from surgery and get back to doing the things you love as soon as possible.

What is orthopaedic surgery?

Orthopaedics is the medical specialty concerned with the treatment of injuries and disorders of your joints and associated soft tissues. Associated soft tissues means your ligaments, nerves and muscles. These components make up your musculoskeletal system, which helps to support your bodily functions, protect your skeletal muscles, and aid your movement.

Many different things can cause damage to your musculoskeletal system, most of which can be categorised as either traumatic injuries or medical conditions. This damage can cause pain, inflammation, swelling and stiffness in your affected joint(s), which in turn can dramatically impact your overall quality of life. While pain from an injury or a joint condition may be widespread, it is more often localised in one joint, for example your shoulder, wrist, ankle or hip.

Orthopaedic surgery is any surgery that concerns injuries and conditions of your musculoskeletal system. Many of our specialists are consultant orthopaedic surgeons, meaning they are highly trained in performing surgical procedures.

To find out more about our orthopaedic services, you can call us on 0141 300 5009 or book an appointment with one of our orthopaedic surgeons online.

The cost of elbow arthroscopy will depend on where you have the procedure and which consultant you have it with.

Our fixed-price packages include the cost of your surgery and all appropriate aftercare appointments. However, any pre-surgery diagnostic tests and your consultant's outpatient appointment consultation fee are charged separately.

Our flexible payment options help you spread the cost of your payment across a time period that suits you. We offer fixed-term monthly payment plans over 10 months to five years with no deposit required. If you decide to pay over 10 months, you will pay interest-free. If you are paying for a longer period, you will pay 14.9% APR.

If you have private health insurance, elbow arthroscopy will usually be covered by your provider. Speak to your insurer directly to find out.

You might need an elbow arthroscopy if you are experiencing one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Loss of motion in your elbow joint
  • Persistent pain in your elbow
  • Swelling in your elbow
  • Elbow pain that gets worse at night
  • Pain and stiffness when resting your elbow

These symptoms can be caused by several joint pain conditions, as well as an injury in your elbow, such as a direct blow to your elbow during sport.

Tennis elbow

Tennis elbow (extensor tendinopathy) is caused by the overuse of the muscles around your elbow. If these muscles are strained, small tears and inflammation can develop near the bony lump (the lateral epicondyle) on the outside of your elbow, causing pain and swelling. You do not need to be a tennis player to experience this condition.

Elbow tendonitis

A tendon is the anatomical term used for the connective tissue which binds muscles to their attachments. Tendonitis happens when your tendon becomes irritated and inflamed, which can cause pain and swelling. The severity of symptoms caused by tendonitis varies from person to person.


Osteoarthritis impacts an estimated nine million people across the UK. It occurs when the cartilage that covers the ends of your joint begins to break down. As a result, the bones that form your joint begin to rub together causing pain, inflammation and stiffness.

Rheumatoid arthritis

This form of arthritis affects 1% of the UK population. It is caused by your immune system attacking the cells that line your joints, which leads to swelling, pain, and stiffness in your elbow.

Elbow bursitis

A bursa is a small, fluid-filled sac that sits near a joint. It acts as a cushion between your bones, muscles, and ligaments. This soft tissue reduces friction and helps to protect a joint from shock and impact. When a bursa becomes inflamed it produces excess fluid, causing it to swell up and sometimes form a lump. This is called bursitis.

An elbow fracture

An elbow fracture is when a crack occurs at the tip of your elbow. Elbow fractures are usually caused by a traumatic injury such as an injury during contact sports, but they can sometimes happen because of a condition that weakens your bones, for example osteoporosis.

There is not a lot you can do to prepare for an elbow arthroscopy. Your orthopaedic surgeon might recommend incorporating certain lifestyle factors in the run-up to surgery to ensure you are as healthy as possible.

These factors include staying active before surgery (this doesn't have to be high-impact exercise, but can be regular gentle walking or even swimming to remain fit), as well maintaining a balanced diet that suits you as an individual.

We encourage people to stay as healthy as possible before surgery to reduce the risk of complications happening during it, although these are already unlikely to occur. Being healthy and mobile also helps you to recover from surgery faster.

No alcohol

You should avoid drinking alcohol for at least 48 hours before having surgery. Please speak with your consultant about this in more detail.

No food or drink before surgery

You might need to avoid eating or drinking after midnight the night before surgery. Your consultant will discuss this with you in more detail.

Changes to your medication

Your consultant will also share information on whether you should avoid taking your usual medication before going into hospital, or the kind of medication you might need to take after you have surgery.

Eliminate tripping hazards at home

Remember to eliminate any tripping hazards such as uneven flooring (this could be anything from uneven tiles to loose rugs and carpets) or general mess in your home before surgery. This is to ensure you don't trip and try to land on your arm, damaging your elbow or otherwise hurting yourself.

Making your home recovery-friendly

In the weeks after your surgery, your mobility will be limited as you recover. We recommend stocking up your house with food and resources or arranging for a friend or family member to do so.

Arranging transport to and from hospital

You'll also need to think about how you're getting to and from the hospital and have this arranged before you come in for surgery. Perhaps a friend or family member can give you a lift, or maybe you'd rather book a taxi, which we can arrange for you in hospital.

The length of time an elbow arthroscopy takes depends on the type of procedure your consultant will perform using the keyhole technique. It can be performed under either local or general anaesthetic. A local anaesthetic numbs the area being operated on, meaning you will be awake during the surgery, but you won't feel any pain. General anaesthetic causes a loss of consciousness, meaning you won't be awake during the surgery.

Your consultant will begin by making a set of small incisions (cuts) across your elbow. They will then insert an arthroscope (a small, thin tube with a light and camera attached to the end of it) into your elbow joint. The arthroscope is connected to a monitor, so your consultant can see inside your elbow. If your elbow arthroscopy is for diagnostic purposes, your consultant will refer to the monitor to understand the cause of your symptoms.

If you're having an elbow arthroscopy for treatment, your consultant will insert specialist instruments through one or more incisions to repair or remove damaged cartilage from around your elbow joint. There are other ways of repairing damage to your joint, but the technique your consultant will use will depend on the reasons you are having surgery.

For example, during surgery for osteoarthritis in your elbow, your consultant will insert specialist instruments through one or more incisions to 'clean out' your joint and remove surrounding damaged bone and tissue caused by the wear and tear. They will also repair damaged tissue, if needed, but their technique for doing this will depend on the extent of the damage.

There are many ways to perform elbow surgery with arthroscopy. Your consultant will explain the process of your surgery in detail to you before you have it to ensure you feel prepared.

Most people recover from an elbow arthroscopy within six weeks, but everyone recovers differently depending on factors such as their age, general fitness levels, and lifestyle. You will have a follow-up appointment during this time for your consultant to assess how well you are recovering and answer any questions about the process that you might have.

Most people can leave the hospital on the same day as their surgery, but some will need to stay overnight to be monitored. You will have some pain and swelling in your elbow as the general anaesthesia wears off and you regain feeling in your joint, but your nurses will help you effectively manage this with painkillers.

You might be provided with a sling to keep your elbow in place and protect it from further damage as it heals. You can remove this up to four times a day to straighten and bend your elbow at home, and you can stop wearing your sling after around two weeks after surgery. You should wear your sling when sleeping for the first two weeks after surgery, and we recommend you sleep on your back and prop your arm up on a cushion by your side to protect it.

Physiotherapy after surgery

You will meet your physiotherapist at the hospital after your operation, if not before. They will get to know you and your individual circumstances, and they'll tailor your specialised recovery programme so that it's bespoke to you. This plan will be made up of exercises to strengthen your elbow muscles and improve your mobility and the range of motion in your elbow.

Your physiotherapist will let you know how regularly you should do these exercises outside of your sessions, and they'll help you source any equipment you might need to help you do them. They'll also give you advice on how to incorporate exercise into your daily routine at home, so that your physiotherapy becomes a normal part of your day.

Recovering at home

If you have a desk job, you should be able to return to work within a few days of having surgery. If your job involves manual labour, particularly heavy lifting, you should be able to return to work within four to six weeks. Your consultant will understand your individual circumstances better and be able to advise on this, as well as when you should return to driving. Generally, you can drive within four weeks of having the surgery, but it is best to check this with your consultant as well as your insurance company.

You can start incorporating gentle exercise back into your routine after a week or two. It's different for everyone, and your surgeon and physiotherapist will have explained to you what to do and how to know when you're ready, so you should follow this advice. Going on long, slow walks can really help you build up your fitness and mobility again, but you should avoid heavy lifting for up to six weeks. It is normal to have some pain and swelling within this six-week recovery period, but this can be effectively managed with painkillers and physiotherapy.

Your consultant will be able to provide a detailed recovery plan based on your individual needs and circumstances.

It is important to remember that complications from elbow arthroscopy are rare and there are risks attached to any surgery, not just this one. Most people who have the operation will not experience complications.

Potential complications during any surgical procedure include:

  • Infection in the surgical wound
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Scarring
  • Blood clots
  • Chest infection
  • Difficulty passing urine
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke

Specific complications that can occur during an elbow arthroscopy include:

  • Pain in your elbow persisting after surgery
  • Sceptic arthritis
  • Damage to your nerves
  • Damage to blood vessels
  • Infection in your elbow
  • Blood clots

Serious complications as a result of elbow arthroscopy are rare. If you have any concerns about these, speak with your consultant. They will be able to discuss their likelihood with you in more detail and put your worries at ease.

How long is recovery from elbow arthroscopy?

It can take up to six weeks to recover from elbow arthroscopy. Your consultant will provide you with a tailored recovery plan, including a regime set by your physiotherapist, to help you recover as safely and quickly as possible.

What should I wear to the hospital for elbow surgery?

We recommend bringing loose, comfortable clothing to hospital, so you can comfortably change into your clothing after surgery without having to squeeze your arm into your top or jumper, preventing it from healing properly.

Can I take my sling off to sleep?

You can take your sling off up to four times a day for some relief in the first two weeks after surgery, but we recommend wearing it to bed to hold your elbow in place and protect it from becoming damaged by being bent in an unusual sleeping position.

When can I have sex after elbow arthroscopy?

You can have sex as soon as you feel comfortable, but we recommend waiting for three to four weeks, allowing time for the muscles and tissue around your elbow to heal first.

When you choose to go private with Circle Health Group, you can expect:

  • Flexible appointment times and locations to fit your routine
  • The freedom to choose which hospital and consultant suit your needs
  • Personalised, consultant-led treatment plans tailored to your individual needs
  • Comfortable and safe private facilities maintained by expert multidisciplinary teams
  • Support by the same compassionate clinical team from beginning to end
  • Affordable, fixed-price packages with aftercare included
  • Flexible payment options to help you spread the cost of your care

If you would like to learn more about private elbow arthroscopy, book your appointment online today or call a member of our team directly on 0141 300 5009.

Content reviewed by Circle in-house team in September 2022. Next review due September 2025.

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