Total elbow replacement refers to a surgery that creates an artificial joint. Damage to your elbow can initially occur from badly broken bones, severely torn tissues, a tumor in or around the elbow, or osteoarthritis, or unsuccessful previous surgery.
Your normal elbow joint is comprised of two bones—the humerus in the upper arm and the ulna in the lower arm. When the joint is significantly damaged, surgery is usually required. The artificial elbow joint has two stems of metal, joined by a metal and plastic hinge to allow movement. While most total elbow replacements are successful, surgery can involve significant bone removal, nerve and blood vessel damage, dislocation of the artificial joint, allergic reaction to the new joint and joint loosening over time.
Although the prognosis of elbow replacement surgery is good, physical therapy can be the missing piece to help you regain strength and full range of motion in your arm. Typically, individuals wearing a splint begin physical therapy a few weeks later than those who do not wear a splint.
Initially, you will perform gentle motion exercises. When appropriate, strength training can begin, targeting muscles in and around the elbow to help you regain normal movement. Exercises and treatments may include
• light grip strengthening to start
• active elbow and wrist exercises in the second phase
• flexibility techniques for wrist, elbow and shoulder
• strategies to relieve pain, inflammation or swelling
When a physical therapy program is planned early on, mobility can significantly improve—with use of the new elbow—as soon as 12 weeks after surgery. Although full recovery can take up to a year, the process is generally much more effective when physical therapy is a consistent part of therapy.