Arthroscopic Debridement of the Elbow

This outpatient procedure, performed under local anesthesia with sedation or general anesthesia, allows the physician to examine the cartilage, bones, ligaments, and tendons of the elbow for damage or disorders. The physician uses a small camera, called an arthroscope, which is inserted into the elbow.

Arthroscopic debridement of the elbow is typically an outpatient procedure, performed under local anesthesia with sedation or general anesthesia. The procedure allows for a thorough examination of the cartilage, bones, ligaments and tendons of the elbow to identify damage or disorders. During arthroscopic debridement, a small camera, known as an arthroscope, is inserted into the elbow through a very small incision. The camera provides the surgeon with a close-up view of the entire procedure on a monitor.

Reasons for Arthroscopic Debridement of the Elbow

The elbow is a complex joint, created by the meeting of three bones, the humerus, ulna and radius. Ligaments hold the bones together, and the ends of the bones are covered with cartilage, which allows them to slide easily against one another and to absorb shock. Although not protected by muscle or fat like most other joints, the elbow is one of the most important joints of the body as it allows the arm to bend and twist.

Damage to the elbow may be the result of traumatic injury, overuse from repetitive-motion tasks or sports, or from aging in general. Arthroscopic debridement of the elbow may be necessary to confirm the presence of joint damage and remove unhealthy tendon tissue. Arthroscopy is considered an ideal treatment option since it offers smaller incisions, shorter recovery times and less scarring than traditional open surgery.

Candidates for Arthroscopic Debridement of the Elbow

Because of its delicate nature, the elbow is particularly vulnerable to damage or injury. Candidates for arthroscopic debridement of the elbow may suffer from elbow injuries, including:

  • Dislocation
  • Bursitis
  • Biceps tendon rupture
  • Lateral epicondylitis, also known as tennis elbow
  • Fractures

Some of these conditions can be treated through conservative measures such as immobilization and applications of ice. However, in more severe cases they may require surgery to effectively relieve pain and restore function to the joint. Following a physical examination, the doctor will decide which type of treatment is best for an individual patient. X-ray imaging tests may also be performed to assess the damage within the joint and devise a treatment plan.

The Arthroscopic Debridement of the Elbow Procedure

Arthroscopic debridement of the elbow is a minimally invasive surgical technique, commonly used to examine abnormalities of the cartilage, bones, ligaments and tendons in the elbow joint and remove damaged tissue. In preparation for the procedure, the patient will be positioned so that the elbow can be bent comfortably, and the area will be cleaned and sterilized. Local anesthesia is administered to numb the surgical site, and a sedative may be provided to help relax the patient. In some cases, general anesthesia will be used instead of local anesthesia.

The surgeon will create a series of small incisions around the elbow, and insert an arthroscopic camera and other tools. The camera enables the doctor to view the entire area of the elbow as the procedure is performed. Fluid is injected into the space around the elbow, expanding the joint so that it can be assessed for any signs of damage or disease. Once the condition has been diagnosed, arthroscopic tools are used to repair any damage. During this portion of the procedure, bone spurs may be filed down and loose, damaged cartilage will be removed.

Once the treatment is complete, the small incisions will be closed with either sutures or surgical staples. The elbow is bandaged, and the patient is provided with medication for pain relief. In most cases, the patient is permitted to return home the same day.

Risks of an Arthroscopic Debridement of the Elbow

While arthroscopic debridement of the elbow is generally considered a safe procedure, in rare cases complications arise. The risks associated with this procedure include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chronic pain
  • Swelling or numbness
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Redness around the incisions
  • Color changes in the wrist or hand
  • Continuous drainage or bleeding from the incisions
  • Excessive nausea or vomiting

Recovery from Arthroscopic Debridement of the Elbow

After arthroscopic debridement of the elbow, most patients will experience significant pain relief. Patients must keep their surgical incisions dry and clean to avoid infection. Strenuous exercise should be restricted for at least 7 to 10 days after surgery. Physical therapy usually begins about 10 to 14 days after surgery, and will focus on restoring the range of motion and flexibility to the elbow. The length of recovery time will depend on the specific patient and their response to the physical therapy program.

Have a Question?

  • American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
  • American Association for Hand Surgery
  • American Academy Of Orthopaedic Surgeons
  • The American Board of Pediatrics