Open Elbow Surgery

Open elbow surgery is most commonly used for treatment of all types of elbow fractures, tennis and golfers elbow, ulnar nerve decompression, biceps tendon repair, collateral ligament repair, and elbow replacements.

What to Expect

Prior to having surgery you may be asked to see a primary care doctor to obtain “medical clearance” and to insure that any medical problems are addressed and health is optimized prior to surgery. Blood tests, an electrocardiogram, or chest x-ray may be needed. In some cases, based on health risks, a more extensive evaluation may be necessary.

Open elbow surgery is performed both as an outpatient and inpatient procedure. You may be able to go home the same day or may stay in the hospital overnight depending on the extent of the surgery.

The hospital or surgery center will contact you ahead of time to provide specific details about your procedure. Make sure to follow the instructions on when to arrive and especially on when to stop eating or drinking prior to surgery.

On the day of surgery a member of the anesthesia staff will talk with you about anesthesia options. Open elbow surgery is performed with sedation, light general anesthetic, or general anesthetic. Regional nerve block injections that numb just your elbow area are rarely used in open elbow surgery because the numbing effect can last for a few hours after the procedure is completed. Although the numbing effect can help with managing pain, it prevents a careful nerve examination in the recovery room to make sure that the nerves that travel down your arm are functioning well.

If necessary for pain control, a regional anesthetic may be provided in the recovery room after nerve examination.

Once in the operating room, you will be positioned to allow access to the elbow. Care is taken to ensure that your spine and other pressure points in your arms and legs are protected and padded after positioning.

Next, a tourniquet is applied to your upper arm which is then placed in an arm holder to keep it in position during the procedure. A compressive dressing may be applied to your lower arm and hand to limit swelling. The surgical team will clean your skin with antiseptic and cover your shoulder and upper body with sterile surgical drapes.

At the completion of surgery the incision is closed with stitches and covered them with a large, soft bandage.

Postoperatively you may go home the same day or stay in the hospital overnight. Postoperatively nurses will monitor your responsiveness and provide pain medication, if needed. You will need someone to drive you home and stay with you for at least the first night.

You can expect some pain and discomfort for at least a week after surgery. You will be prescribed pain medicine to help with this discomfort.

It is important to ice and elevate your elbow regularly for 48 hours after surgery. This will reduce the risk of severe swelling and help to relieve pain. When elevating your arm, whether you lie flat or recline, make sure your elbow is resting higher than your heart and your hand is positioned higher than your elbow.

Movement of your fingers and wrist frequently is encouraged to help stimulate circulation and minimize swelling. Timing on when you can start these gentle exercises, as well as return to daily activities, will depend on the type of surgery performed.

Rehabilitation plays an important role in getting you back to your daily activities. An exercise program will help you regain elbow and forearm motion and strength. A rehabilitation plan will be discussed at the first visit based on the intra-operative findings.

Return to driving, basic activities of daily living, and return to work will depend on the type of surgery you required.