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Elbow replacement

How elbow replacement can relieve your pain and restore full range of motion

Specialist examines a patient's bent arm ahead of elbow replacement surgery
Elbow replacement surgery is a procedure that involves replacing damaged elbow joints with artificial implants made from plastic and metal.1 You might need this surgery when the smooth substance (known as articular cartilage) that covers the surface of your elbow bones and enables smooth movement between your joints becomes destroyed, leading to stiffness, pain, and reduced movement.

You have three bones that make up your elbow joint: the upper arm bone (humerus), which connects to a larger forearm bone (ulna) that works with your other forearm bone (radius) to provide rotation.2 There are a variety of reasons why the joints that connect these bones experience damage, such as arthritic conditions or severe fractures. Private elbow replacement surgery can involve your surgeon providing a total elbow joint replacement or a partial replacement, where only one part of your joint is replaced. The surgery can help you regain full movement in your elbow and stop you from feeling pain in this area.

If you would like to know more about elbow replacement surgery, or other treatments for elbow and arm issues, our experienced consultants are here to help you. Call or book online today and you could have your initial consultation within 48 hours.

This page outlines all the key information about elbow replacement surgery, such as its cost, treatment options, and recovery timeline.

The cost of elbow replacement surgery with Circle Health Group depends on a variety of factors, including whether you are having partial or total elbow replacement, your reasons for having surgery, and which hospital you choose. Your healthcare team will ensure you know the cost of your treatment at every stage of your journey with them, including information on how and when to pay it.

Fixed-price packages

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.

Spread the cost of your payment

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 one 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.

Private health insurance

If you have private health insurance, your treatment will usually be covered by your provider. Speak to your insurer directly to find out more information on this.

If you have any questions about our fixed-price packages and flexible payment options, you can speak to a friendly member of our advisory team on 0141 300 5009.

There are a variety of conditions that may mean you require elbow replacement surgery, all of which lead to pain, restricted movement, and/or numbness in the elbow area. Some of these include:

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a condition caused by your immune system attacking healthy body tissue and leads to the lining of your joints becoming inflamed (swollen). This chronic inflammation means that you experience damage to your articular cartilage (the lining that protects your joints and facilitates smooth movement), which in turn makes your bones rub together, causing long-lasting pain and stiffness in your elbow.

Osteoarthritis

A 'wear and tear' condition, osteoarthritis tends to mainly show up in people aged 50 or above, although it can affect young people as well. It develops gradually over time due to persistent strain on your articular cartilage. When this protective tissue in your elbow experiences relentless stress over a prolonged period of time, it gradually deteriorates and can wear down completely, which leads to the bones in your elbow rubbing against each other and causing pain and/or reduced mobility.

Post-traumatic arthritis

In rare cases, a serious elbow injury can lead to you developing post-traumatic arthritis. If you have a fracture in one of the bones that make up your elbow, or experience tears to any of the surrounding tendons and ligaments, your articular cartilage can become damaged and no longer able to protect the joints that link your elbow bones together, which ultimately causes pain and considerably reduces your elbow's ability to move freely.

Severe fractures

If you have a severe elbow fracture, where you've shattered one or both bones in your elbow, it is likely that you'll need elbow replacement surgery. When the bone has shattered, it is difficult to put the pieces of the bone back into place, and your fracture may not heal properly. So, instead of trying to repair the damaged bone, your surgeon may choose to replace the joints with artificial implants and hold them in place with pins, screws, and plates, which makes sure that your elbow heals correctly and has full range of movement.

Instability

Elbow instability can occur due to falling on your hand when it's outstretched, repetitive stress, or injury to the ligament on the inside of your elbow. It means that your elbow joint feels loose and moves more than normal, which causes it to slide out of place or lock. When your elbow joint doesn't move as it should, it is more prone to becoming dislocated and may need elbow replacement surgery as a result.

To see if you need elbow replacement surgery, your consultant will conduct a detailed physical examination and run some tests, along with learning about your history of treatment for elbow issues.

Medical history

Your consultant will start off by taking a history of your symptoms, gathering important information such as how long they've been going on for, whether they were caused by an injury, and what kind of treatment you've already had. They will also check whether you have arthritis, as this is a common reason why people require elbow replacement surgery.

Physical examination

You will also receive a physical examination. These tests mainly involve guided bending and straightening of your elbow, with your consultant checking to see when and where pain shows up for you. Determining the levels of strength and range of movement in your elbow helps them know how severe your joint problem may be.

Tests

To clarify the extent of your elbow issue and decide whether you should have elbow replacement surgery, your consultant may also order some imaging tests, such as an X-ray and MRI scan. These tests help your consultant to check for cartilage loss by looking for any narrowing of space between the bones in your joint, along with any bone spurs (bumps on the bone caused by pressure). The MRI scan produces detailed images of your bone and cartilage and makes it easy for your consultant to see if your articular cartilage has been eroded.

Having run these tests, along with taking you through a physical examination, your consultant should be able to decide if elbow replacement surgery is the best option for you. If you have not yet tried physiotherapy exercises and/or medication, they will most likely recommend that you try this non-surgical option first. Should these more conservative treatments fail, or your condition is clearly severe, your consultant may suggest elbow replacement surgery.

There are several ways you can prepare for surgery, including:

Prepare for a hospital stay

Following your elbow replacement surgery, you will need to spend one or two nights with us at hospital. This is because we'll need to keep an eye on how you've responded to surgery, manage your dressings, provide pain relief, perform an X-ray to check your elbow replacement, and give you resources and advice for home recovery. So, before you get to hospital, please bring anything that might be helpful for you during your time with us. You should bring some loose-fitting clothing to wear to stay comfy, and potentially a laptop and/or tablet to keep yourself entertained as you recover.

You should also consider how you'll get home from hospital. Driving and public transport won't be an option, so see if a family member or friend can pick you up, or arrange a taxi. We can arrange for a taxi to collect you from hospital, if needed.

Discuss medication and other conditions with your consultant

Two weeks before your elbow replacement surgery, your consultant will check what medications you are taking. If you are on any blood thinners, such as warfarin or aspirin, you may be asked to stop taking these to avoid unwanted bleeding during and/or after the procedure. They will also check if you have any conditions that may make surgery unsafe, such as diabetes or heart disease. If this is the case, you will be referred to a specialist in this area, who will be able to make a judgement as to whether it's safe for you to have elbow replacement surgery.

Set up your recovery space at home

For the first month or so after your elbow replacement surgery, you will not be able to use your affected limb except for extremely light activities. Resting your arm is so important for making sure it fully recovers, so you'll be encouraged to take it easy during this time and not make any quick trips to the shops. Ahead of coming to hospital, then, create an easily accessible recovery space at your home that has all the supplies you might need within easy reach.

Please also consider removing any possible tripping hazards at your home as well, such as uneven flooring, furniture, or general mess that may cause you to trip.

Stop smoking

If possible, stop smoking at least two weeks before your elbow replacement surgery. We always recommend this due to the fact that you are greater risk of experiencing problems with breathing and your heart after surgery if you smoke. It may also hamper your chances of recovering fully. More general anaesthetic is needed for smokers as well, which can cause further issues. For any advice about smoking cessation and how we can help, please speak to your consultant.

Lose weight

If you are obese, your consultant may ask you to lose weight before proceeding with the surgery. Weight loss reduces your chances of experiencing issues during surgery and also means that you recover at a quicker rate. You will be given plenty of advice on how you can do this in a safe, healthy manner.

Food and drink

As is the case with operations that use general anaesthetic, avoid drinking or eating anything after midnight on the day of your surgery. You should also stay alcohol-free for the 48 hours before coming to hospital. Take care to eat a healthy balanced diet in the leadup to your surgery. Your consultant will speak to you about foods that are helpful - and not so helpful - when they book you in for surgery.

Elbow replacement surgery usually takes around two hours, and is performed under general anaesthetic, which means you'll be asleep for the entire operation and won't feel any pain.

Your surgeon will make an incision at the back of your elbow, ahead of gently moving your muscles aside to give them access to your bone. After this incision has been made and your bone has been exposed, they will carefully remove any scar tissue and bony bumps that have been caused by the pressure on your joints.

Once these steps have been completed, your surgeon will prepare the artificial implant that will be used as a replacement for your damaged joint - either for your humerus, ulna, or both. These replacement implants are placed into your humerus and ulna bones, which are kept in place using bone cement that anchors artificial joints to your bone. The two implants are then connected by a hinge pin, which makes sure that they stay firm and in the right place.

Your surgeon will then close your wound and place a padded dressing over your incision. They may also place a temporary small tube in your joint to drain any fluid from the surgery. This will be removed after a few days.

On average, recovery from elbow surgery can take around three to four months. However, everyone's recovery timeline is slightly different. How long it takes for you to return to daily activities and full elbow movement may depend on a range of factors, such as:

  • Your fitness levels
  • Your everyday activities
  • The nature of your job
  • General health
  • Your age
  • Your reason for having elbow replacement surgery

Recovering in hospital

When you wake up from surgery, you may feel quite groggy, but this is perfectly normal as your general anaesthetic wears off. You will be transferred to a private recovery room to rest following your elbow replacement. You may feel some pain, and we will provide enough pain relief to keep you comfortable.

At this stage, your arm will be placed in a sling and kept elevated to support healing and reduce the amount of swelling. You won't be able to use your arm that was operated on at this stage, and your occupational therapist will speak with you about how to navigate tasks like dressing, bathing, and preparing meals when you are at home. An X-ray of your new joint will be taken during your stay, which gives us reassurance that the procedure has gone as planned.

In most cases, you can go home after one or two nights, but in some cases, you may need to stay a little longer.

Three days to one month after surgery

For the first few weeks as you recover at home, you'll need to rest your elbow in a sling. You should get to a point of not needing painkillers after one to two weeks, and you may be able to use your arm at waist level for very light tasks by this point as well. Please bear in mind, however, that you won't be able to pick up anything heavier than a cup of coffee for about six weeks, so you may need some assistance during this time. Be very careful to avoid pushing your arm straight at any time, as this could cause damage to your new artificial joints.

After about two weeks, you'll need to attend one of our outpatient clinics for a routine check-up. This just lets your consultant know that your joint replacements have set in the right way and your wound has healed. During this time, you'll need to mainly keep your arm rested in a sling, but you can take it out every now and again to practice some gentle flexing exercises, which supports your recovery and ensures your elbow doesn't become too stiff. However, take care to avoid putting any weight or resistance on your affected arm during this early stage of recovery.

One to three months after surgery

At the six-week stage, you should no longer need your sling, or at least not wear it as much. The pain shouldn't be as bad by this point either. You will probably be off work for about six to eight weeks after your elbow replacement surgery, provided your job doesn't involve any manual labour (e.g., a desk job). If your work entails overhead activities that require you straightening out your arm, you won't be able to do this for three to six months, depending on how you are progressing. Please speak to your consultant about when it's safe for you to go back to work.

When it comes to driving, this is also something you can probably do after six to eight weeks, although this may be longer if your left elbow was operated on, because using the gear stick and handbrake may aggravate your artificial joints. You should start with short journeys; be sure that you can manage all the controls before going anywhere.

You can return to gentle exercises and activities by this point, like swimming or gardening. Your physiotherapist will construct a detailed rehabilitation plan that is designed to support your recovery from elbow replacement surgery, running you through exercises for your hand and wrist, gentle range-of-motion exercises for your elbow, along with a series of exercises you can do on your own to strengthen your elbow.

Please bear in mind there are certain things you'll not be able to do after your elbow replacement surgery - even following a successful rehabilitation programme. This includes:

  • Contact sports (football, rugby, hockey, etc.)
  • Activities that put you at risk of falling (riding horses, skiing downhill, climbing trees, etc.)
  • Heavy lifting of any kind (your consultant will recommend a permanent lifting restriction of no more than five to 10 pounds)

If you do these activities, there's a chance the metal parts in your elbow will loosen or break. You may also experience a bone fracture as well.

Like with any surgical procedure, complications can sometimes occur, but these are extremely rare. Your consultant will explain all the potential risks to you before booking you in for your elbow replacement surgery and answer any questions you might have.

General complications of any operation

  • Pain
  • Bleeding
  • Infection in the surgical wound
  • Unsightly scarring
  • Blood clots
  • Difficulty passing urine
  • Chest infection
  • Heart attack or stroke

Specific complications of elbow replacement surgery

  • Damage to your surrounding nerves during surgery
  • Dislocation, loosening, or wearing down of your artificial joint (may need additional surgery)
  • Blood vessel damage during surgery
  • Bone break during surgery
  • Triceps insufficiency (weakening of tendons in your triceps)

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

  • Flexible appointment times and locations that fit your schedule
  • The freedom to choose which hospital and consultant suit your needs
  • Personalised, consultant-led treatment plans tailored to your individual requirements
  • Comfortable and safe private facilities maintained by expert multidisciplinary teams
  • Private cosy ensuite rooms as standards and delicious healthy meals
  • 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 elbow replacement surgery, 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 November 2022. Next review due November 2025.

  1. Elbow replacement surgery, Mayo Clinic
  2. Total elbow replacement, OrthoInfo
  3. Elbow replacement surgery, One Healthcare
  4. Shoulder and elbow replacement, Versus Arthritis
  5. Elbow replacement surgery, WebMD

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