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Elbow release (arthrolysis)

Arthrolysis is a treatment for the stiff elbow.   The cause may be degenerative or post-traumatic. The elbow is unfortunately very prone to getting stiff; normally loss of extension is worse than loss of flexion.  Simply immobilising an elbow for a few weeks can produce long-term stiffness.  

Various techniques are described to achieve improved range of motion.  The choice of which one to do depends on the nature of your elbow stiffness and your anatomy.

If you problem is not enough extension, the column procedure (a laterally based incision with full release of your anterior capsule, bony spur resection and loose body removal) is a powerful technique that achieves on average 30 degrees arc improvement. If your radial head is arthritic, this can also be removed through the same incision.

If you have lost flexion, you may require a medial approach to release a tightened part of your ligament on that side and any anterior impinging structures must be resected

For some cases, an arthroscopic release can achieve the necessary functional gain, but this is not feasible in all cases (dense scarring post-trauma).

After open arthrolysis you will need to stay in hospital for 48 hours to allow a continuous passive motion machine to move your arm through range. During this time you will have an in-dwelling nerve block catheter to avoid any pain.  

Rehab after elbow arthrolysis is key.  However, despite best efforts, some residual restriction is almost inevitable as the final result, even if your surgeon can achieve full range on the operating table.