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Potential Complications Following Elbow Surgery Print E-mail

As with all major surgical procedures, complications can occur. Some of the most common complications following artificial elbow replacement are:

  • Infection
  • Loosening
  • Nerve Injury


Infection can be a very serious complication following artificial joint replacement surgery. The chance of getting an infection following most artificial joint replacements is around 1%-2%. The artificial elbow replacement has a somewhat higher chance of infection for several reasons. The skin is thin around the elbow, and there are no muscles that cover the joint, so wound complications are more common. The operation is also more likely performed in patients who have rheumatoid arthritis. This disease and the medications that are used to treat the disease affect the body's immune system, making infections more likely.

Some infections may show up very early, before you leave the hospital. Others may not become apparent for months, or even years, after the operation. Infection can spread into the artificial joint from other infected areas. Your surgeon may want to make sure that you take antibiotics when you have dental work or surgical procedures on your bladder and colon to reduce the risk of spreading germs to the joint.


The major reason that artificial joints eventually fail continues to be a process of loosening where the metal or cement meets the bone. There have been great advances in extending how long an artificial joint will last, but most will eventually loosen and require a revision. In the past, the artificial elbow joint has not been considered as successful as the hip and knee replacement because there has been a much higher risk of loosening and failure of the artificial elbow replacement. The risk of loosening is much higher in younger, more active patients. A loose prosthesis is a problem because it causes pain. Once the pain becomes unbearable, another operation will probably be required to either revise the elbow replacement, or perform an elbow fusion.

Nerve Injury

All of the nerves and blood vessels that go to the forearm and hand travel across the elbow joint. Because the operation is performed so close to these important structures, it is possible to injure either the nerves or the blood vessels during surgery. The result may be temporary if the nerves have been stretched by retractors holding them out of the way. It is very uncommon to have permanent injury to either the nerves or the blood vessels, but it is possible.





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