Elbow replacement surgery is a complicated procedure partly because the elbow has several moving parts that balance each other with great precision to control the movements of your forearm.

Your elbow can be damaged by problems ranging from rheumatoid arthritis to traumatic fractures. In some cases, the damage can be surgically repaired. But if the damage is extensive, your doctor might recommend elbow replacement surgery.

In elbow replacement surgery, the damaged joint is removed and an artificial (prosthetic) joint is inserted into your arm bones. Great care must be taken to avoid harming the large (ulnar) nerve that travels along the outside edge of the joint.

Types of elbow replacement

Mayo Clinic surgeons have experience with many different varieties of replacement joints (prostheses) for the elbow. In some cases, you may need a replacement of just one portion of the joint. For example, if only the head of one of your forearm bones (radius) is damaged, it can be replaced with an artificial head.

If the entire joint needs to be replaced, the ends of the bones that come together in the elbow will be removed. Bones are hard tubes that contain a soft center. The long, slender ends of the artificial joint are inserted into the softer central part of the bones.

There are two main types of prosthetic devices available:

  • Linked. This type of prosthesis acts somewhat like a loose hinge because all the parts of the replacement joint are connected. This provides good joint stability, but the stresses of movement can sometimes result in the prosthesis working itself loose from where it's inserted into the arm bones.
  • Unlinked. This type of device comes in two separate pieces that aren't connected to each other. This design depends on the surrounding ligaments to help hold the joint together, which can make it more prone to dislocation.
  • Experience and expertise. Mayo Clinic's orthopedic surgeons have expertise in all types of elbow prostheses. Mayo Clinic is among the leading medical centers in terms of volumes of joint replacement surgeries. Mayo Clinic surgeons host educational seminars to teach other surgeons the latest surgery techniques.
  • Diagnostic and surgical innovation. Mayo Clinic doctors have developed a number of diagnostic examinations and surgical techniques to help make elbow replacement a highly effective treatment option.
  • Research advances. Mayo Clinic's laboratories for Biomechanics and Motion Analysis are leaders in developing, modifying and patenting new prosthesis designs. Because of the work done in these labs, you have access to the latest elbow replacement treatment advances at Mayo Clinic. Some of the top prosthesis designs were developed in cooperation with Mayo Clinic surgeons.

Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., is ranked among the Best Hospitals for orthopedics by U.S. News & World Report. Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., are ranked high performing for orthopedics by U.S. News & World Report.

At Mayo Clinic, we assemble a team of specialists who take the time to listen and thoroughly understand your health issues and concerns. We tailor the care you receive to your personal health care needs. You can trust our specialists to collaborate and offer you the best possible outcomes, safety and service.

Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit medical institution that reinvests all earnings into improving medical practice, research and education. We're constantly involved in innovation and medical research, finding solutions to improve your care and quality of life. Your doctor or someone on your medical team is likely involved in research related to your condition.

Our patients tell us that the quality of their interactions, our attention to detail and the efficiency of their visits mean health care — and trusted answers — like they've never experienced.

Why Choose Mayo Clinic

What Sets Mayo Clinic Apart

Mayo Clinic works with hundreds of insurance companies and is an in-network provider for millions of people. In most cases, Mayo Clinic doesn't require a physician referral. Some insurers require referrals or may have additional requirements for certain medical care. All appointments are prioritized on the basis of medical need.

Specialists in orthopedic surgery at Mayo Clinic in Arizona perform elbow replacement surgery. Depending on the cause of your elbow problem, specialists in physical medicine and rehabilitation, rheumatology, radiology, oncology and infectious diseases also may be involved in your care.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 800-446-2279 (toll-free) 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

Hand surgeons in orthopedic surgery at Mayo Clinic in Florida perform elbow replacement surgery. Depending on the cause of your elbow problem, specialists in physical medicine and rehabilitation, rheumatology, radiology, oncology and infectious diseases also may be involved in your care.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 904-953-0853 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

Specialists in orthopedic surgery at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota perform elbow replacement surgery. Depending on the cause of your elbow problem, specialists in physical medicine and rehabilitation, rheumatology, radiology, oncology and infectious diseases also may be involved in your care.

For appointments or more information, call the Central Appointment Office at 507-538-3270 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Central time, Monday through Friday or complete an online appointment request form.

See information on patient services at the three Mayo Clinic locations, including transportation options and lodging.

Mayo Clinic orthopedic surgeons and scientists are active in elbow replacement research that is quickly translated into clinical care, including developing patents for new surgical devices and techniques.

At Mayo Clinic's laboratories for Biomechanical Research and Motion Analysis, researchers study the influence of prostheses in restoring normal function to the elbow and other joints. Mayo Clinic is continuously developing, modifying and patenting new prostheses designs.

For people who need only a part of the elbow replaced, Mayo Clinic doctors developed a prosthetic replacement head and special surgical instruments that help guide the placement of the prosthesis so it will mesh well with the remaining bones.

Publications

See a list of publications on elbow replacement surgery by Mayo Clinic doctors on PubMed, a service of the National Library of Medicine.

May 22, 2012