Total Elbow Arthroplasty

What is a Total Elbow Arthroplasty?

A total elbow arthroplasty (elbow replacement) is a surgical procedure in which parts of an arthritic joint are replaced with a prosthesis or artificial parts. One part fits into the humerus (upper arm), and the other part fits into the ulnar (forearm). The two parts are then connected and held together by a pin. This artificial joint is designed to move like a normal, healthy joint.

How do you replace the elbow?

The prosthesis will be placed through an incision down the back of the elbow. The humeral and the ulnar components are cemented into place. The two parts then fit together like a hinge.

Length of Stay

You will spend one to two nights in the hospital after this surgery. You will need to have someone to drive you home after you have been discharged.


Patients usually have two types of anesthesia for this surgery. The first is general anesthesia, which means you are asleep. The second type of anesthesia is a nerve block. Your arm will be numb and will feel very strange. The nerve block will last about 12-14 hours. The anesthesiologist will speak to you on the day of surgery. The ultimate choice of anesthesia technique is up to you and your anesthesiologist.


You will have an incision down the back of your elbow. After the incision has healed, it is usually very thin and not very noticeable.


While admitted to the hospital you will be provided with a PCA (Patient Controlled Analgesia) machine. This is a syringe of pain medication attached to a computer with a button. The computer is programmed with a specific amount of pain medication that can be administered when the button is pressed. When you feel pain press the button and you will receive pain medication. You will also have pain medication prescribed for when you are discharged home.


Your arm will be placed in a splint prior to leaving the operating room. The spilt will be removed before you go home.


You will go home with gauze dressings covered with ace wraps. You are to leave those in place until your first postoperative visit (10-14 days after the day of surgery). You may cover the dressings with a plastic trash bag to keep them dry while showering. Under the dressings are staples. These also will be removed at your first follow-up visit.

Physical Therapy

Before leaving the hospital you will be taught your home exercise program. For the three months of recovery, you will do these very gentle stretches at home.


Recovery from total elbow replacement is three months. During that time you will have restrictions on the use of your operative arm. You may drive when you feel that you can properly control a car and you are NOT taking narcotic pain medication.

Day of surgery to Week 6: no lifting, no weight-bearing
Weeks 6-12: no repetitive lifting greater than 5lbs