Elbow Surgery & Other Treatments for Elbow Pain

Baseball pitcher throwing who may well need elbow surgery | Muir Orthopaedic | SF Bay Area CAElbow surgery and other nonsurgical treatments could be needed for a range of reasons, including elbow pain and injury. The elbow is especially susceptible to stress injuries either acutely, as the result of a specific one-time injury, or over time as the result of overuse and repetitive injuries. There are many sports, hobbies and jobs that require repetitive movements of the arm and elbow that can cause wear and pain.

The elbow joint connects the upper arm bone (humerus), the forearm bone on the pinky side (ulna), and the forearm bone on the thumb side (radius). The bones are surrounded by cartilage, ligaments, muscle and nerves. The elbow is capable of forward and backward motion like a hinge, as well as rotation.

Muir Orthopaedic Specialists takes a multi-faceted approach to treating elbow pain and elbow injury. Treatment will vary depending on the cause and severity of the symptoms and may include conservative treatment, injections or surgical management.

We have a highly trained orthopedic surgeon team that specializes in elbow surgery and can effectively correct the most complex issues.

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Common problems we treat that cause elbow pain

Learn more about elbow pain

Nonsurgical orthopedic treatments for elbow pain

When experiencing elbow pain, the first line of treatment is to stop doing any activities that cause elbow pain to increase. Taking pain medication or an anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen can help ease mild pain and inflammation. Ice can also help reduce swelling and pain. Patients should put an ice pack on the injured part of the elbow for 15 minutes at a time, several times a day.

Immobilization and rest

A doctor may also recommend using a brace and will be able to assess a patient’s symptoms to let him or her know if a brace is the right treatment and identify the best brace. A brace can help make the patient rest his or her elbow, which helps healing. Even without a brace, rest in general is a good thing for a damaged elbow. Patients should avoid lifting anything with that arm and move the elbow as little as possible.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy will help improve the flexibility and strength of the forearm muscles as well as improve blood flow to the tendons. The Muir Ortho physical therapy team will use numerous techniques to help a patient overcome the cause of the pain or the effect of the injury.

Physical therapy can be used as an initial treatment or may be recommended post-surgery to regain movement and strength.


Another treatment option we consider before moving to surgery is an injection. There are two main options for injections for elbow pain we offer.

  • Cortisone injections. Cortisone is a powerful anti-inflammatory medication that helps control inflammation.
  • Platelet rich plasma (PRP) injections. PRP is created by separating a patient’s blood to gather high concentrations of platelets. These platelets are then injected back into the patient’s elbow where needed to stimulate the healing process.

Elbow surgery options

If the patient’s symptoms do not respond to one of the nonsurgical treatments listed above or the extent of the injuries are severe, a doctor may recommend surgery.

Elbow surgeries fall under two categories, arthroscopic or open. Some surgeries include a mixture of both.

Elbow arthroscopy

This procedure can be used to visualize, diagnose and repair problems in the elbow joint. In an arthroscopic surgery the surgeon will use an arthroscope that inserts through small incisions a small camera and any needed instrument into the elbow joint.

Due to the small incision recovery time, pain and joint stiffness are all decreased compared to an open surgery that requires a large incision.

An elbow arthroscopy can treat the following conditions:

  • Tennis elbow.
  • Osteoarthritis.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Osteochondritis dissecans.

It can also be used to release scar tissue, loosen the joint capsule and remove loose cartilage and bone fragments.

Open elbow surgery

An open surgery is used when a larger incision is needed to repair the elbow. The placement of the incision of an open elbow surgery depends on the type and extent of the repair needed.

An open procedure is most effective to:

  • Treat golfer’s elbow.
  • Repair the collateral ligaments.
  • Fix fractures.
  • Repair bicep tendon tears (distal biceps repair).
  • Decompress the ulnar nerve (cubital tunnel release).
  • Treat radial tunnel syndrome (radial tunnel release).
  • Replace the elbow joint.

A total elbow replacement removes damaged areas of the ulna and humerus bones and places artificial elements in their place. This new joint consists of metal stems that fit in the bone’s canal (hollow section) and a plastic and metal hinge. Our orthopedic surgeons discuss the various options with patients.

Risks of surgery

As with any surgery there are some risks associated with both an arthroscopic and open elbow surgery. Prior to surgery your surgeon will go over the specific risks of your surgery.

Some possible risks include infection, bleeding, complications from anesthesia, nerve damage and joint stiffness.