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Replacement Elbow Surgery


The elbow is a hinge joint consisting of three bones. The upper portion of the hinge is at the end of the upper arm bone (humerus), and the lower portion is the top of the two forearm bones (radius and ulna) which are side by side. All three of these bones are in contact with each other. The joint is surrounded and lined by cartilage, muscles, and tendons that provide support, stability, and ease of movement.

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The elbow joint allows for the extension, flexion, and rotation of the arm. The range of motion is dependent upon the proper articulation of the elbow joint.


This following provides a brief introduction to elbow replacement. It can help you make a list of questions to ask your doctor, but it is not meant to provide complete information. Check with your surgeon’s office about more comprehensive resources and patient education materials.


In elbow replacement surgery, the painful surfaces of the damaged elbow are replaced with artificial elbow parts. One part fits into the humerus (upper arm), and the other part fits into the ulna (forearm). The two parts are then connected and held together by a pin. The resulting hinge allows the elbow to bend.


Successful joint replacement surgery may relieve your pain and stiffness, and allow you to resume some of your normal daily activities as instructed by your doctor. While you are recovering, you should not lift more than one pound with the operated arm. Even after you have fully recovered from your surgery, you will still have some restrictions. Normal daily activities for elbow replacement patients do not include contact sports, “jamming” activities such as hammering, heavy or repetitive lifting, or activities that put excessive strain on your elbow. Your doctor may advise you not to lift anything that weights more than five pounds. Although your artificial joint can be replaced, a second implant is seldom as successful as the first.


Longevity of the prosthetic elbow varies from patient to patient. It depends on many factors, such as a patient’s physical condition and activity level, as well as the accuracy of implant placement during surgery. It is useful to keep in mind that prosthetic joints are not as strong or durable as a natural, healthy joint, and there is no guarantee that a prosthetic joint will last the rest of a patient’s life.


Today, total elbow replacement is becoming a common and predictable procedure. Many patients enjoy relief from pain and improved function, compared to their status before surgery. As a result, some patients may have unrealistic expectations about what the prosthetic elbow can do and how much activity it can withstand. As with any mechanical joint, the components move against each other. Natural fluid in the joint space, called synovial fluid, helps to lubricate the implants just as it lubricates the bones and cartilage in a natural joint. Still, the prosthetic components do wear as they roll and slide against each other during movement. As with car tires or brake pads, the rate of wear depends partly on how the elbow joint is used. Activities that place a lot of stress on the joint implants, as may be the case with more active patients, may reduce the service life of the prosthesis. Implant loosening and wear on the components can lead to the necessity for revision surgery to replace the worn parts, or all of the parts. Your doctor will be in the best position to discuss these issues with you, taking into account your particular clinical circumstances, the type of implants used, and your post-surgical lifestyle.

Tips to make your joint work longer and better:


  • Avoiding repetitive lifting; avoiding lifting anything heavier than one pound during recovery; and avoiding lifting anything heavier than five pounds after recovery.
  • Avoiding “jamming” activities such as hammering
  • Staying healthy and active
  • Avoiding “impact loading” sports such as boxing
  • Consulting your surgeon before beginning any new sport or activity, to find out what type and intensity of sport or activity is appropriate for you
  • Thinking before you move
  • Avoiding any physical activities involving quick stop-start motion, twisting or impact stresses on the operated elbow
  • Not pushing heavy objects