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How Do I Know If I Need Elbow Surgery?

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That's a question you and your orthopedic surgeon will have to answer together. But when elbow pain is so bad it actually interferes with the things you want or need to do, the time may be right.

Elbow replacement may be an option when nonsurgical interventions such as medication and physical therapy no longer help alleviate the persistent pain. Other possible signs such as: aching in the joint, followed by periods of relative relief; pain after extensive use; reduced elbow motion; joint stiffness after periods of inactivity or rest; and/or pain that seems to increase in humid weather may also lead you and your doctor to consider an elbow replacement surgery.

Your primary care doctor may refer you to an orthopedic surgeon who will help you determine when or if it's time for elbow surgery and which type of elbow surgery is most appropriate. Your surgeon may decide that elbow replacement surgery is not appropriate if among others you have an infection, you do not have enough bone, or the bone is not strong enough to support an artificial elbow. 

Doctors generally try to delay total elbow replacement for as long as possible in favor of less invasive treatments. However, if you have advanced joint disease,  you and your doctor may evaluate elbow replacement for a chance  to relieve pain and return to normal activities.

How do I get a diagnosis?

To diagnose your condition, an orthopedic surgeon will perform a thorough examination of your elbow, analyze X-rays, and conduct physical tests. You will be asked to describe your pain, if you suffer from other joint pain, and if you have endured past injuries that may have affected your current elbow condition. It may be helpful to keep a record of your elbow pain to share with your doctor. Your elbow joints will then be tested for strength and range of motion through a series of activities, which include bending and straightening. X-rays of your elbow joint will indicate any change in size or shape, or any unusual circumstances.