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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. The doctor 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 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.

How do you prepare for surgery?

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

Preparing for surgery

  • You may need to shower or bathe with a special soap the night before and the morning of your surgery. The soap contains chlorhexidine. It reduces the amount of bacteria on your skin that could cause an infection after surgery.
  • Be sure you have someone to take you home. Anesthesia and pain medicine will make it unsafe for you to drive or get home on your own.
  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • If you take a medicine that prevents blood clots, your doctor may tell you to stop taking it before your surgery. Or your doctor may tell you to keep taking it. (These medicines include aspirin and other blood thinners.) Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Tell your doctor ALL the medicines and natural health products you take. Some may increase the risk of problems during your surgery. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking any of them before the surgery and how soon to do it.
  • Make sure your doctor and the hospital have a copy of your advance care plan. If you don't have one, you may want to prepare one. It lets others know your health care wishes. It's a good thing to have before any type of surgery or procedure.

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. You may be asleep or have medicine to relax you. And if you're awake, the area will be numbed. It's often numbed even if you are asleep.
  • The surgery will take about 1 to 2 hours.

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

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