How is the procedure performed?
The procedure is performed under a combination of general and regional anaesthesia. The elbow is examined under anaesthesia and the range of movements noted. Where possible the operation is performed through previous scars. The ulnar nerve may need to be identified and moved out of the way. Any metalwork (such as plates and screws) is removed. The joint is opened, inspected and cleared of any scar tissue. Any excess bone that has formed around the joint is trimmed. Finally the capsule is release circumferentially around the joint. The joint is stretched at the end of the procedure.
The main benefit of the procedure is to improve the range of movements and function of the elbow. More than 80% of patients achieve a substantial improvement in the range of movement following surgery.
Pain - The elbow may be painful for some days after surgery. This is usually managed by taking appropriate pain relieving medication and activity modification.
Swelling –The elbow will be swollen and bruised for some days after surgery. You should keep your elbow elevated as far as possible to help relieve the swelling.
Bleeding – A small amount of bleeding may stain the dressings and will usually settle after a day or two.
Residual Stiffness – The joint may feel stiff in the initial phase after surgery. This is partly due to swelling. Prevention is the key and it is essential to follow the instructions provided, keep the elbow elevated and perform daily stretching and exercises at home to maintain the range of movements. It is not uncommon for some residual stiffness to persist.
Infection – Infection is a possibility (2%).
Nerve injury – Injury to the nerves around the elbow is possible but rare. This may result in temporary numbness or weakness around the hand, wrist or forearm (3-5%). Permanent nerve injuries are extremely rare (<1%).
Following the procedure the skin incision(s) will be closed with sutures and tape and covered with shower-proof dressings. These dressings should be left undisturbed as far as possible until the sutures are removed at about 14 days. If the dressings are removed for any reason they should be replaced with similar dressings or waterproof plasters. A compression bandage is applied after surgery and will usually be removed the next day. To help maintain the range of movements achieved at surgery, your elbow will be placed on a CPM (Continuous Passive Motion) machine whilst you are in hospital and you may be advised to wear a brace after surgery. A sling will be provided to support the arm, but may be removed as tolerated to move the arm and is usually discarded after 2-3 days. A physiotherapist will provide instructions about mobilising the elbow and using a brace prior to discharge from hospital. Outpatient physiotherapy will be required for up to 12 weeks. You may resume driving after 5-7 days. Sutures are removed after two weeks.
An appointment will be arranged for you to be seen in the outpatient clinic within two to four weeks after the procedure. Follow-up is required for at least 3-6 months after surgery or until a satisfactory recovery is achieved.