Elbow stiffness

All surgical procedures have some element of risk attached. Click here to view/hide this information.


All surgical procedures have some element of risk attached.
The risks outlined below are the most common or most significant that have been reported.

Continued pain: 5%

In the majority of cases all the pain is removed by surgery however occasionally a small amount of pain persists. This is usually mild but very rarely (less than 1%) can be the same or worse than prior to surgery.

Infection: less than 0.1%

If an infection does occur it is usually superficial in the wounds and is easily treated with antibiotics.

Rarely the infection can be deep inside the joint and this requires surgery to wash the joint out.

Nerve damage: less than 0.1%

The axillary nerve runs close to the bottom of the joint and, if damaged causes weakness of the deltoid muscle and difficulty in raising the arm.

Stiffness: 1%

The shoulder will often become stiff after surgery and this usually settles with physiotherapy. Rarely the shoulder can become very stiff and require manipulation or arthroscopic release surgery.


General Anaesthetic with an axillary block (Fully asleep with a local anaesthetic injection into the sarmpit will numb the nerves to the elbowfor post-operative pain relief)


Arthroscopic or open depending on the cause of the stiffness. If the cause is post-traumatic it is sometimes not possible to introduce the arthroscope into the joint and an open procedure has to be undertaken. Which procedure is to be undertaken will be explained to you prior to the surgery.


Arthroscopic: 4 ½ cm incisions will be made in the elbow. One at each side and 2 at the back

Open: a 4cm incision will be made on either side of the elbow unless you have a previous surgical scar in which case this can usually be used.


The front of the elbow joint will be inspected first and scar tissue within the joint debrided. The capsule (lining around the jopint) will be released to allow more movement. Any boney abnormalities will then be treated. This process will then be repeated at the back of the joint. If the procedure is performed open it is not possible to undertake such a thorough inspection but the steps are basically he same.


Small butterfly paper stitches will be used to close the wounds. If an larger incision is used then a dissolving stitch will be insertedunder the skin with paper stitches over thetop.


Elastoplast dressings will be placed over the top of the paper stitches and an adhesive bandage over the top of this.


A sling may be placed on the arm for comfort and ease of transport home and it may feel numb for the rest of the day. You can go home when you feel comfortable and will be given instructions on what to do next. If the elbow is very stiif then it may be necessary to place the arm in a plaster cast for the first week to help stretch the muscles out.

Further instructions for Elbow arthrolysis rehabilitation