The elbow is a joint that connects the upper arm to the forearm and consists of three bones: the arm bone (humerus), a forearm bone on the thumb side of the arm (radius), and another forearm bone on the pinky side (ulna). The three bones join together to form the elbow joint, and when an injury occurs or a condition develops, requires an orthopedic elbow specialist doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.
What is an Orthopedic Elbow Doctor?
An elbow doctor, or elbow specialist, is typically a sports medicine doctor and/or orthopedic doctor. Orthopedics is an area of medicine that focuses on the musculoskeletal system, which encompasses all the muscles, bones, and supportive structures and tissues in the body. The specialized knowledge of the elbow means that the doctor is equipped to provide elbow treatments for various injuries and conditions, sometimes surgery as well.
Orthopedic Elbow Conditions: Causes of Elbow Pain
There are a range of orthopedic elbow injuries and elbow conditions a patient can develop, including:
Elbow Care and Treatment Options
Orthopedic elbow doctors can provide both non-surgical and surgical elbow treatments, though unless an injury or condition requires it, most will use a conservative approach. Below is a list of common non-surgical elbow treatments:
When conservative methods don’t alleviate symptoms or solve the condition, an orthopedic elbow doctor may recommend surgery. If the doctor is qualified as an orthopedic surgeon, they may perform it themself or recommend a patient to another surgeon. Depending on the condition and severity of injury, these are the most common types of elbow surgery recommended:
Used for fractures of the elbow, where the bones are repositioned (reduced) and secured with hardware like screws, plates, or wires.
Commonly known as “Tommy John surgery,” this procedure involves replacing a torn ulnar collateral ligament with a tendon from elsewhere in the patient’s body or from a donor.
A minimally invasive procedure where a small camera (arthroscope) is inserted into the elbow joint to diagnose and treat various conditions. This can be used for:
- Removing loose bodies (small pieces of bone or cartilage)
- Treating osteoarthritis
- Treating specific types of elbow injuries
This involves replacing the damaged parts of the elbow with artificial components, usually due to severe arthritis or certain complex fractures.
Used for stiff elbows that don’t respond to physical therapy. The procedure involves releasing tight tissue to improve the range of motion.
For ulnar nerve entrapment, this surgery involves releasing the structure compressing the nerve, often by making more space for the nerve or by moving the nerve to a position where it is less likely to be compressed.
In cases where the radial head (a part of the radius bone near the elbow) is fractured and can’t be repaired, it might be replaced with a metal or plastic implant.
For cases of tennis elbow that don’t respond to conservative treatments, this surgery involves removing damaged tissue and reattaching healthy muscle back to the bone.
Similar to the procedure for tennis elbow, but addresses golfer’s elbow by treating the inner part of the elbow.
In chronic or infected cases of olecranon bursitis, the inflamed bursa may be surgically removed.