Total elbow replacement is a surgical procedure that may be performed to address disruptive pain and other symptoms of extensive and irreparable elbow joint damage. This type of damage can result from rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease), post-traumatic arthritis, an acute distal humerus fracture, or elbow instability.
An intricate hinge joint, the elbow has multiple moving parts that must be precisely balanced to effectively control forearm movement. As such, total elbow replacement is a complex procedure that is generally considered only after conservative treatments, such as physical therapy, medication, and corticosteroid injections, do not produce sufficient results.
Types of Elbow Replacement Surgery
In some cases, a surgeon can replace just one portion of the elbow joint. For instance, if the damage is limited to the top portion of one of the forearm bones (radius or ulna), the surgeon may remove the end of the damaged bone and replace it with an artificial head. On the other hand, if the entire joint is damaged and must be replaced, the surgeon may remove the ends of both the upper arm bone (humerus) and ulna, then insert a prosthetic device in their place.
Elbow implants have improved significantly in recent years. Currently, there are two main types:
- Linked – Because the sections of the replacement joint are connected, this type of prosthesis functions as a loose hinge while providing good joint stability.
- Unlinked – Composed of two separate pieces, this type of prosthesis relies on the ligaments surrounding the elbow to hold the joint together.
The metal replacement parts used in total elbow replacement are made of either titanium or a chrome-cobalt alloy lined with polyethylene (plastic). The stems of the prosthesis are inserted in the arm bones, then secured in place with a special bone cement made of polymethylmethacrylate (acrylic).
Surgical Expertise Matters
While total elbow replacement is not as commonly performed as other joint replacement procedures, it is highly successful, and most patients report experiencing less pain, increased strength, and better elbow function afterward. To help ensure an optimal result, it is important to work with an experienced and trusted surgeon. Widely considered an expert among experts, Christopher C. Schmidt, MD, is a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon and elbow specialist who practices in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
If you have questions about elbow surgery or would like to meet with Dr. Schmidt, contact his office at (877) 471-0935 to schedule an appointment at one of his three office locations in the greater Pittsburgh, PA, area.
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