Elbow arthroscopy FAQs with answers from a specialist: success rate, risks, advantages and more

Written by: Professor Roger van Riet
Edited by: Emma McLeod

Elbow arthroscopy is a minimally invasive technique, used by orthopaedic surgeons to look inside the joint. It’s used to diagnose and treat many different elbow joint conditions such as osteoarthritis, locked joints, tennis elbow, elbow stiffness, instability, cartilage injuries and more. Naturally, patients have questions about the procedure. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.

Mr Roger van Riet performing elbow arthroscopy surgery on a patient
Professor Roger van Riet performing elbow arthroscopy


1. Is elbow arthroscopy a serious operation?

Elbow arthroscopy is a real operation, with potential complications such as nerve injury. Elbow arthroscopy, therefore, is best performed by an experienced surgery. We can do nearly everything we would do with a large open approach through minor incisions.


2. Are there advantages to elbow arthroscopy?

There are many advantages to elbow arthroscopy. For example, the surgeon can evaluate the entire joint through small “portals” and it is not necessary to cut any tendons or ligaments to get this excellent view. Therefore, the elbow will recover much faster in most circumstances.


3. How long does elbow arthroscopy take?

An elbow arthroscopy usually takes between 30 minutes to an hour.


4. Is anaesthetic used?

Elbow arthroscopy can be performed under general anaesthetic or local/regional anaesthetic. Most surgeons prefer general anaesthetic because it’s vital that the patient does not move during the procedure.

Mr Roger van Riet performing elbow arthroscopy surgery on a patient
The small “portals” (incisions) mean that it is not necessary to cut tendons or ligaments to get an excellent view of inside the elbow.


5. What are the risks of elbow arthroscopy?

Some complications are possible but less common when arthroscopy is performed:


The main risk of elbow arthroscopy is nerve injury. This is why it’s so important that the patient doesn’t move during surgery. If nerve injury occurs, the patient may never be able to move the hand or wrist normally.


It has been shown that the risk of injury decreases significantly with the surgeon’s level of experience. In experienced hands, elbow arthroscopy is a routine procedure.


6. What is the success rate of elbow arthroscopy?

This depends on the reason for the procedure. If the motivation for the procedure is correct and the surgeon is experienced in elbow arthroscopy, it is an extremely successful procedure. Nearly all patients will experience a clear benefit after surgery.

7. When can I shower after elbow arthroscopy?

The wounds need to stay dry and clean as long as the stitches are in, but they can easily be covered with a waterproof dressing a few days after surgery.


8. When can I drive after elbow arthroscopy?

Driving is not allowed on the day of surgery but is allowed as soon as the day after surgery (as long as the patient can perform emergency procedures, like a sudden swerve). Depending on the procedure, I usually tell my patients: “Driving is not dangerous to the elbow, but make sure you’re not dangerous to other people on the road”.


9. Will my elbow function as well as before surgery?

No, it should be better!


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By Professor Roger van Riet
Orthopaedic surgery

Professor Roger van Riet is a leading orthopaedic elbow surgeon in London who specialises in elbow arthroscopy, sports injuriesfractures, dislocations, instability and arthritis related to the elbow. He has treated elbow injuries in many international athletes, including Olympic and world champions. He is well recognised for the development of his technique to repair and reconstruct the unstable elbow as well as tendon repairs around the elbow.

Professor van Riet received his degree in medicine from the University of Antwerp in 2001. Prior to this he completed a bachelor in physiotherapy in Eindhoven, the Netherlands and worked as a physiotherapist in the Netherlands, Germany and the UK.

He was a research fellow at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN until 2002, which is when he started his orthopaedic training at the University of Antwerp. In 2004, Professor van Riet completed his PhD on the radial head performed at the Mayo Clinic and the University of Antwerp. Professor van Riet was an upper extremity fellow at Monash University in Melbourne in 2005 and at the Royal Adelaide Hospital in 2006 and again at the Mayo Clinic in 2008. After this Professor van Riet started work as a consultant orthopaedic surgeon, specializing in elbow surgery.

Professor van Riet also works at the world renowned Orthopaedic Center Antwerp of AZ Monica and is a visiting professor at the University Hospital Antwerp. He has published more than 100 articles in peer-reviewed journals and contributed to more than 50 book chapters. He has presented more than 500 times on elbow topics in international conferences in 30 countries.

He was the president of the Belgian Elbow and Shoulder Society, chair of the rehab committee and executive member of the board of the European Shoulder and Elbow Society. 

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