Health Information and Tools > Patient Care Handouts >  Elbow Arthroscopy: Before Your Surgery
Facebook Tweet Email Share

Main Content

Elbow Arthroscopy: Before Your Surgery

What is elbow arthroscopy?

Arthroscopy is a way to find problems and do surgery inside a joint without making a large cut (incision). Your doctor puts a lighted tube with a tiny camera and surgical tools through small incisions. The camera is called an arthroscope, or scope.

This surgery can treat several problems.

  • For osteoarthritis, the doctor smooths rough surfaces of the elbow bones. He or she may take out bone spurs or scar tissue.
  • For an elbow that does not move easily or that feels like it locks, the doctor may take out or put back in place loose bone or cartilage.
  • For "tennis elbow" or other problems, the doctor may cut tissue that is thick or too short. This surgery is called a release.
  • For a stiff elbow, the doctor may cut tissue that is thick or too short. This helps your elbow move better.

You probably will go home on the day of the surgery or the next day. Your arm may be in a sling. You may need to do physical rehabilitation (rehab) exercises for several weeks.

You may need about 6 to 8 weeks to recover. But if you have had treatment for a stiff elbow, you may need to wear a brace and do rehab exercises for 3 to 6 months. You may have to limit your activity until your elbow strength and movement improve.

If you have a desk job, you may be able to go back to work a few days after the surgery. If you lift things or do physical labour at work, it may be 1 to 2 months before you can go back.

After surgery and rehab, you will probably have less pain and more movement in your elbow. Some people have to avoid lifting heavy objects.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

What happens before surgery?

Preparing for surgery

  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • Tell your doctors ALL the medicines and natural health products you take. Some of these can increase the risk of bleeding or interact with anesthesia.
  • If you take blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if you should stop taking these medicines before your surgery. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Your doctor will tell you which medicines to take or stop before your surgery. You may need to stop taking certain medicines a week or more before surgery. So talk to your doctor as soon as you can.
  • If you have an advance care plan, let your doctor know. Bring a copy to the hospital. If you don't have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets your doctor and loved ones know your health care wishes. Doctors advise that everyone prepare these papers before any type of surgery or procedure.

Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for your surgery.

What happens on the day of surgery?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your surgery may be cancelled. If your doctor told you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, take them with only a sip of water.
  • Take a bath or shower before you come in for your surgery. Do not apply lotions, perfumes, deodorants, or nail polish.
  • Do not shave the surgical site yourself.
  • Take off all jewellery and piercings. And take out contact lenses, if you wear them.
  • Wear a shirt that is easy to put on and take off. This will make it easier if your arm has a large bandage or is in a sling after the surgery.

At the hospital or surgery centre

  • Bring a picture ID.
  • The area for surgery is often marked to make sure there are no errors.
  • You will be kept comfortable and safe by your anesthesia provider. The anesthesia may make you sleep. Or it may just numb the area being worked on.
  • The surgery will take about 1 to 2 hours.

Going home

  • Your elbow will be bandaged. It may be in a sling or a brace.
  • Be sure you have someone to drive you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine make it unsafe for you to drive.
  • You will be given more specific instructions about recovering from your surgery. They will cover things like diet, wound care, follow-up care, driving, and getting back to your normal routine.

When should you call your doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns.
  • You don't understand how to prepare for your surgery.
  • You become ill before the surgery (such as fever, flu, or a cold).
  • You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about having the surgery.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

Enter W903 in the search box to learn more about "Elbow Arthroscopy: Before Your Surgery".

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.