The elbow joint is a crucial part of the human body that enables you to move your hands, rotate your forearm, and bend and straighten the elbow. Its functions are similar to ankle and knee joints, and it includes various ligaments, nerves, arteries, veins, and bones. 

A number of common orthopedic conditions may require elbow surgery. When any of these parts are damaged by injuries such as dislocation, fractures, tears, and strain, or a disease, you may require surgery to help you return to doing the things you love.

Here are six of the most common reasons a person might need surgery on their elbow.

Tendinitis

Tendinitis occurs when tendons become inflamed or injured, and it’s the most common reason for elbow pain. When an injury affects tendons on the outer part of the elbow joint, it’s known as tennis elbow. An injury on the inner part of the elbow is golfer’s elbow.  Other than golfing and playing tennis, activities that involve overuse of the elbow and wrist such as gardening, swimming, working out or typing may also cause tendinitis. 

The main symptoms of tendinitis include:

  • Weaker grip
  • Painful soreness
  • Burning in the outer arm

Symptoms can often be managed with rest, medication, injections or physical therapy. However, depending on the severity of your condition, surgery may be the best route to continuing an active lifestyle.

Arthritis

Different types of arthritis can affect the elbow. Osteoarthritis is caused by degenerative changes in the cartilage, which causes wear and tear on the joint. Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by inflammation and can cause severe pain and discomfort. 

While lifestyle adjustments can decrease symptoms, physical therapy and medication may also be necessary. For severe cases, however, surgery is often the best option.

Bursitis

Bursitis is a condition caused by inflammation of the fluid-filled sac known as the bursa. The bursa around the elbow is the olecranon bursa.  The inflammation may be caused by increased activity which results in swelling, pain, and discomfort. 

The usual treatment options include rest, compression, and ice, but if the swelling and pain persist you should see an orthopedic surgeon specializing in shoulders and elbows for possible removal of the fluid via a needle (aspiration) and/or antibiotics if there appears to be an infection in the bursa.

Dislocated elbow

A dislocated elbow occurs when the joint surfaces separate. It is mainly caused by falls, and the severity depends on the impact of the fall. Complete dislocation, which is extremely painful, may require surgery to realign the bones.

Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) Injury

This type of injury affects the inner elbow and commonly affects baseball pitchers. UCL damage can range from a minor tear and inflammation to a complete ligament rupture. Other than pain, you will also experience slow throwing speed, restriction of movement, and swelling. 

Although you can manage the pain with medication, you will need surgery to repair the torn UCL.

Bone Spurs (Osteophytes)

Bone spurs are caused by an overgrowth of bones at the joint margins. They may result from wear and tear or early arthritis. The main symptoms include:

  • Impeded movement
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness

You can treat bone spurs with lifestyle changes, ice to reduce swelling, medication, and rest. However, your healthcare provider may suggest bone spur removal surgery to eliminate pain and relieve pressure.

Seek The Right Treatment

There are various treatment options for elbow injuries and orthopedic conditions.

  • Injecting steroids in the damaged muscle
  • Extracorporeal shock wave therapy, which utilizes high-energy waves to speed muscle and tendon recovery.
  • Physical therapy to help reduce pain.

It’s important to note that these options may only offer temporary relief. An orthopedic surgeon can help you through both the nonoperative treatment and surgery if indicated.

Schedule an appointment with Daniel Hatch, MD at Utah Shoulder to get your elbow pain treated and return to the activities you enjoy.