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What is an Arthroscopic Debridement of the Elbow?

Arthroscopic debridement of the elbow is a minimally invasive surgical procedure in which an arthroscope, a special tube-like instrument fitted with a camera and a light source, is inserted into the elbow through a tiny keyhole skin incision to identify and remove nonviable tissue and foreign debris from inside the elbow joint.

Anatomy of the Elbow

The human arm is made up of three main bones that join at the elbow, forming a hinge joint. The lower end of the upper arm bone or humerus forms the top portion of the hinge joint, while the lower portion of the joint is formed by the upper ends of the radius and the ulna bones, which are the forearm bones. The elbow is held in place with the support of various soft tissues including cartilage, tendons, ligaments, muscles, nerves, blood vessels, and bursae.

Indication for arthroscopic Debridement of the Elbow

The most common injuries or conditions which are treated using arthroscopic debridement of the elbow include:

  • Tennis elbow
  • Scar tissue inside the joint that restricts the range of motion
  • Osteoarthritis of the elbow
  • Inflammatory arthritis of the elbow
  • Loose cartilage and bone fragments within the elbow causing impingement

Procedure for arthroscopic Debridement of the Elbow

  • You will be positioned in such a manner that the elbow can be bent comfortably. After which, the area will be cleaned and sterilized to prevent infection. 
  • You will receive local anesthesia to numb the elbow, however, in some cases, general anesthesia may be used instead of local anesthesia.
  • Your surgeon will insert an arthroscopic camera and various other tools through several small incisions made around the elbow.
  • The camera allows your doctor to view the inside of the elbow under magnification as the procedure is performed.
  • Sterile fluid is then injected into the elbow to expand the joint space for your surgeon to better assess the region for the presence of any disease or damage.
  • Once the condition has been diagnosed, surgical tools are inserted through the tiny incisions to repair any damage.
  • Bone spurs may be filed down and damaged cartilage may be removed during the repair process. 

Once the treatment is complete, the small incisions are closed with either stitches or surgical staples. Finally, the elbow is bandaged, and you will be provided with medication for pain relief. Most patients are allowed to return home on the same day.

Post-operative Care after arthroscopic Debridement of the Elbow

Usually, some pain and discomfort may be present for about a week post-surgery. If you have had extensive debridement, it may take several weeks before your pain completely subsides. The application of ice packs along with elevating the elbow regularly during the first 48 hours is necessary once the surgery is completed. This reduces the risk of severe swelling and helps to relieve pain. Generally, you may be advised to start physical therapy by the 10th or 14th-day post-surgery. The therapy will focus on restoring your elbow flexibility and range of motion. The recovery period varies from person to person depending on the person’s health and his/her response to the therapy.

Risks of Arthroscopic Debridement of the Elbow

 The risks associated with arthroscopic debridement elbow procedure include:

  • Chronic pain
  • Swelling or numbness
  • Fever
  • Redness around the incisions
  • Color changes in the wrist or hand
  • Drainage or bleeding from the incisions

Benefits of Arthroscopic Debridement of the Elbow

The benefits of arthroscopic debridement of the elbow include:

  • Small surgical incisions
  • Less blood loss
  • Minimal injury to healthy tissues
  • Less pain
  • Faster recovery 
  • Hospital for Special Surgery
  • Duke University School of Medicine
  • NYU Langone Health
  • Duke-NUS Medical School