When Does Chronic Elbow Pain Require Arthroscopy

When Does Chronic Elbow Pain Require Arthroscopy

When does elbow pain require arthrocopic surgery?
When your elbow pain is more than just an occasional twinge, it may persist regularly enough that it interferes with your daily function. The prospect of arthroscopy, a minimally invasive surgery, as a way to address this pain may be daunting, though. After all, it requires you to go under general anesthesia and endure weeks of recovery. But arthroscopy really is an effective diagnostic and potential treatment tool for a number of elbow conditions.

At Hughes Orthopedics, Paul Eliot Hughes, MD, may recommend you have this procedure, which involves inserting a small camera — or arthroscope — into your elbow joint to look at the connective tissue and bone there. In some cases, arthroscopy may also temporarily resolve stiffness and lack of mobility.

You may be a candidate for arthroscopy if your elbow pain and poor mobility hasn’t responded well to nonsurgical treatments, such as rest, physical therapy, injections, or medications. This pain may be due to any number of specific conditions. Arthroscopy can help diagnose these conditions, too.

Tennis elbow

If you have the condition known as tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, you may experience pain when you grip an object, turn a doorknob, shake hands, or even hold a coffee cup. It happens due to an overload on the tendons in your elbow, usually because of repetitive movements of your wrist and arm.

Those repetitive movements don’t have to be tennis (or athletic) related. You may develop tennis elbow from work tasks such as repeatedly moving a mouse, painting, or chopping. Arthroscopy can repair some of the tendon damage, relieve pain, and restore function.

Repair irregular tissue

Any loose cartilage or bone at your elbow joint or scar tissue can impair your elbow function and cause pain. You may have scar tissue, loose cartilage, or bone fragments remaining from previous trauma or a sports injury. Dr. Hughes uses arthroscopy to view the tissue and clear out the joint so the irritation no longer exists.


Osteoarthritis, due to wear-and-tear and aging, is often treated with arthroscopy. The surgery removes cartilage fragments and smooths the joint surfaces to reduce inflammation and improve joint motion.

For sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis, arthroscopy may be an answer because elbow pain worsens with time. If you have persistent throbbing, even while at rest, arthroscopy can help reduce inflamed tissue and remove any debris (such as loose cartilage). Arthroscopy can’t cure either condition, but it can help mitigate pain.

Osteochondritis dissecans

Osteochondritis dissecans usually develops in response to activity — such as throwing (pitchers) or gymnastics — that exerts too much on capitellum portion of the humerus. The repetitive movement blocks blood flow to the bone underneath the cartilage, causing it to die.

The damaged bone and cartilage break loose and hinder joint movement while causing serious pain. Through arthroscopy, Dr. Hughes can look at the extent of your damage and clear up any loose tissue to improve range of motion and reduce pain.

If you suffer from disabling elbow pain, arthroscopy may be the right treatment step for you. Dr. Hughes offers his orthopedic evaluative and surgical skills to those in the San Mateo community. Call the office to request an appointment.

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