By Healthtrip Team Blog Published on - 18 August - 2023

Total Elbow Replacement (TER): Comprehensive guide

The elbow is one of the most intricate joints in the human body, playing a pivotal role in the movement and functionality of the arm. It is where the humerus (upper arm bone) meets the radius and ulna (forearm bones), allowing for both bending and rotation of the forearm. Over time, due to various reasons, this joint may deteriorate or get damaged, necessitating surgical intervention. One such intervention is the Total Elbow Replacement (TER).

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Total Elbow Replacement (TER)

Total Elbow Replacement, commonly referred to as TER, is a surgical procedure wherein the damaged parts of the humerus and the ulna are replaced with artificial components. These components are typically made of metal and plastic. The primary goal of TER is to restore function, alleviate pain, and improve the range of motion in individuals with severely damaged elbow joints.

Elbow Joint Anatomy

The elbow joint is a hinge joint, but it also allows for rotational movements. It is formed by three bones:

  • Humerus: The long bone of the upper arm.
  • Radius: One of the two forearm bones, positioned on the thumb side.
  • Ulna: The other forearm bone, which runs parallel to the radius and is on the side of the little finger.

These bones are held together by ligaments, tendons, and muscles, ensuring stability and facilitating movement. The surface of these bones, where they meet to form the joint, is covered with articular cartilage. This cartilage ensures smooth movement by reducing friction. However, diseases or injuries can damage this cartilage, leading to pain and restricted movement, which may necessitate a Total Elbow Replacement.

Indications for Total Elbow Replacement (TER)

Total Elbow Replacement (TER) is a surgical procedure that aims to restore the function and alleviate pain in the elbow joint. While it's not the first line of treatment for most elbow conditions, there are specific scenarios where TER becomes the most suitable option. Here are the primary indications:

  1. Severe Arthritis
    • Osteoarthritis (OA): This is a degenerative joint disease that affects the cartilage, which acts as a cushion between the bones of the elbow joint. As the cartilage wears away, the bones begin to rub against each other, leading to pain, swelling, and reduced motion. In severe cases where non-surgical treatments fail to provide relief, TER may be recommended.
    • Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA): RA is an autoimmune disorder where the body's immune system attacks the synovium (the lining of the membranes that surround the joints). This can lead to inflammation and damage to the joint cartilage and bones. When the damage is extensive and other treatments are ineffective, TER can be a viable solution.
  2. Complex Elbow Fractures: In situations where the elbow has sustained a severe fracture, especially in older patients where the bones might not heal properly or are too fragmented, TER can be an option. This is particularly true if the fracture involves the joint surface, making it challenging to restore the joint's natural anatomy through other surgical methods.
  3. Failed Previous Elbow Surgeries: Sometimes, patients might have undergone surgeries to treat elbow conditions, but the outcome might not be as expected. This could be due to persistent pain, instability, or the development of post-surgical complications. In such cases, if the joint's condition deteriorates further, a TER might be considered to rectify the issues and restore function.
  4. Tumor Resection: In rare cases, tumors (benign or malignant) might develop in or around the elbow joint. If a significant portion of the joint needs to be removed to excise the tumor, a TER can be performed to replace the resected joint and maintain its function.

It's essential to understand that the decision to undergo a Total Elbow Replacement is multifaceted. It depends on the patient's overall health, the severity of the joint damage, age, activity level, and the potential risks and benefits of the surgery. Always consult with an orthopedic surgeon to determine the best course of action.

Preoperative Evaluation for Total Elbow Replacement (TER)

Before undergoing a Total Elbow Replacement, it's crucial to conduct a thorough preoperative evaluation. This assessment ensures the patient is a suitable candidate for the surgery and helps in planning the procedure. Here's what the evaluation typically entails:

  1. Medical History and Physical Examination:
    • Medical History: The surgeon will gather detailed information about the patient's general health, previous surgeries, allergies, medications, and any chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or hypertension. Understanding the patient's medical background helps in assessing the risks associated with the surgery and anesthesia.
    • Physical Examination: The orthopedic surgeon will assess the elbow's range of motion, strength, stability, and the location and intensity of pain. This examination provides insights into the extent of joint damage and helps in surgical planning.
  2. Imaging Studies:
    • X-rays: These are the primary imaging studies used to evaluate the elbow joint. X-rays can reveal the extent of joint damage, bone spurs, and the narrowing of the joint space, which are indicative of arthritis or other degenerative conditions.
    • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): MRI provides detailed images of soft tissues, including ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. It can be particularly useful in assessing the condition of the cartilage and identifying any soft tissue abnormalities.
    • CT (Computed Tomography) Scans: CT scans offer cross-sectional images of the elbow, which can be especially helpful in evaluating complex fractures or planning for the placement of the prosthetic components during TER.
  3. Blood Tests and Other Relevant Investigations:
    • Blood Tests: These are essential to assess the patient's overall health. Common tests include Complete Blood Count (CBC), Blood Glucose Levels, and tests for kidney and liver function. These tests can identify potential issues that might complicate the surgery or the recovery process.
    • Joint Fluid Analysis: In some cases, a sample of the fluid from the elbow joint might be taken to check for signs of infection or other conditions like gout.
    • Cardiac and Pulmonary Evaluation: For patients with a history of heart or lung conditions, additional tests like an Electrocardiogram (ECG) or a chest X-ray might be recommended to ensure they are fit for surgery.

The preoperative evaluation is a critical step in the surgical process. It not only determines the patient's suitability for TER but also provides valuable information that aids in surgical planning and postoperative care.

Choosing the Right Prosthesis for Total Elbow Replacement (TER)

Selecting the appropriate prosthesis is a pivotal decision in the TER process. The choice can influence the surgery's success, the joint's longevity, and the patient's postoperative quality of life. Here's a breakdown of the considerations:

  1. Types of Elbow Prostheses:
    • Linked Prosthesis: This design connects the humeral and ulnar components, ensuring they move together. The linkage provides stability but may limit some natural movement.
    • Unlinked Prosthesis: In this design, the humeral and ulnar components are separate. While it allows for more natural movement, there's a higher risk of the components becoming dislocated if the surrounding soft tissues don't provide adequate support.
    • Semi-constrained Prosthesis: This is a middle-ground design, offering a balance between the linked and unlinked designs. It provides stability while still allowing a good range of motion.
  2. Materials Used:
    • Metal: Common metals used include titanium and cobalt-chromium alloys. They are durable and can withstand the mechanical stresses of joint movement.
    • Plastic (Polyethylene): This material is often used for the bearing surface because of its smoothness and ability to reduce friction.
    • Ceramic: Less common than metal and plastic, ceramic is biocompatible and wears slowly. It's sometimes used in younger patients due to its longevity.
  3. Factors Influencing Prosthesis Choice:
    • Patient's Age: Younger patients might benefit from more durable materials or designs that can withstand active lifestyles.
    • Activity Level: Active individuals might require a prosthesis that can handle more stress and strain.
    • Bone Quality: The quality and quantity of the patient's bone can influence the type of prosthesis and fixation method (cemented vs. non-cemented).
    • Joint Stability: If the ligaments around the elbow are damaged or weak, a linked or semi-constrained prosthesis might be more suitable.
    • Surgeon's Experience: The surgeon's familiarity and success with a particular type of prosthesis can influence the choice.
    • Expected Postoperative Range of Motion: Some prostheses might offer a better range of motion than others, influencing the choice based on the patient's needs and expectations.

The choice of prosthesis is a collaborative decision between the surgeon and the patient, taking into account the patient's unique circumstances and the surgeon's expertise. Proper selection can significantly impact the surgery's success and the patient's postoperative quality of life.

Surgical Procedure for Total Elbow Replacement (TER)

The surgical procedure for TER is a meticulous process that requires careful planning and execution to ensure the best possible outcome for the patient. Here's a step-by-step breakdown:

  1. Preoperative Preparations:
    • Patient Education: The patient is informed about the procedure, potential risks, and expected outcomes.
    • Fasting: The patient is usually required to fast for several hours before the surgery.
    • Skin Preparation: The surgical site (elbow area) is cleaned and disinfected to minimize the risk of infection.
    • Positioning: The patient is positioned on the operating table, usually lying on their back with the arm extended and supported.
  2. Anesthesia Options:
    • General Anesthesia: The patient is put to sleep for the duration of the procedure. This is the most common type of anesthesia used for TER.
    • Regional Anesthesia: An anesthetic is injected near the nerves of the arm, numbing the area. The patient may be awake but will not feel any pain.
  3. Surgical Approach and Techniques:
    • Incision: A vertical incision is made over the back of the elbow joint.
    • Exposure: The muscles and tendons are carefully moved aside to expose the joint.
    • Joint Preparation: The damaged portions of the humerus and ulna are removed using specialized tools.
  4. Implantation of the Prosthesis:
    • Trial Components: Before placing the permanent prosthesis, trial components are temporarily inserted to ensure proper fit and alignment.
    • Fixation: Depending on the chosen prosthesis and the patient's bone quality, the components can be fixed using bone cement or press-fit into the bone.
    • Component Insertion: The humeral and ulnar components of the prosthesis are inserted. If a linked prosthesis is used, the two components are connected.
    • Joint Movement: The joint is moved through its range of motion to ensure smooth movement and proper alignment.
  5. Wound Closure and Dressing:
    • Closure: The muscles and tendons are repositioned, and the incision is closed using sutures or staples.
    • Dressing: Sterile dressings are applied to the wound to keep it clean and protected.
    • Splinting: A splint may be applied to keep the elbow in a fixed position and provide support.

Postoperatively, the patient is moved to a recovery room and closely monitored until the effects of anesthesia wear off. Pain management, physical therapy, and rehabilitation will commence as deemed appropriate by the medical team. The success of the surgery largely depends on the surgeon's expertise, the quality of the prosthesis, and the patient's adherence to postoperative care and rehabilitation.

Postoperative Care after Total Elbow Replacement (TER)

After undergoing TER, meticulous postoperative care is essential to ensure optimal recovery, minimize complications, and achieve the best possible functional outcome. Here's a breakdown of the postoperative care:

  1. Pain Management:
    • Medications: Pain is a common postoperative symptom. Patients are typically prescribed analgesics (painkillers) such as acetaminophen, NSAIDs, or opioids, depending on the pain's intensity.
    • Cold Therapy: Applying cold packs can help reduce swelling and alleviate pain. It's essential to wrap the cold pack in a cloth to prevent frostbite.
    • Elevation: Keeping the arm elevated can help reduce swelling and discomfort.
  2. Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation:
    • Immediate Postoperative Exercises: Gentle range-of-motion exercises may be initiated soon after surgery to prevent stiffness.
    • Strengthening Exercises: As the healing progresses, strengthening exercises will be introduced to restore muscle strength around the elbow.
    • Functional Training: This involves training the patient to perform daily activities without straining the newly operated joint.
    • Guidance: A physical therapist will guide the patient through the rehabilitation process, setting goals and ensuring exercises are done correctly.
  3. Monitoring for Complications:
    • Infection: Signs of infection, such as increased redness, warmth, pus discharge, or fever, should be promptly addressed.
    • Blood Clots: Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) can occur after surgeries. Symptoms like swelling, pain, or warmth in the calf or thigh should be reported immediately.
    • Prosthesis Issues: Any clicking, locking, or unusual movement of the joint should be noted, as it might indicate a problem with the prosthesis.
    • Nerve or Vascular Injury: Numbness, tingling, or decreased blood circulation to the hand can indicate nerve or vascular complications.
  4. Follow-up Visits and Imaging:
    • Routine Check-ups: Patients will have scheduled follow-up visits with the orthopedic surgeon to monitor the healing process.
    • Imaging: X-rays or other imaging modalities may be taken during these visits to assess the position of the prosthesis and the health of the surrounding bone.
    • Long-term Monitoring: Periodic check-ups might continue for several years to ensure the prosthesis remains functional and no late complications arise.

It's crucial for patients to adhere to the postoperative care guidelines and maintain open communication with their healthcare providers. Promptly addressing any concerns or complications can significantly impact the long-term success of the Total Elbow Replacement.

Potential Complications after Total Elbow Replacement (TER)

While Total Elbow Replacement is a generally safe procedure with high success rates, like any surgery, it carries potential risks. Awareness of these complications allows for early detection and intervention. Here's a breakdown of the potential complications:

  1. Infection:
    • Description: Bacteria can enter the surgical site, leading to an infection. This can occur shortly after the surgery or even years later.
    • Symptoms: Redness, warmth, swelling, pus discharge, fever, and increased pain at the surgical site.
    • Management: Early-stage infections might be treated with antibiotics. Severe infections may require surgical cleaning or even removal of the prosthesis.
  2. Prosthesis Loosening or Dislocation:
    • Description: Over time, the artificial joint components may become loose or may dislocate from their intended position.
    • Symptoms: Pain, instability in the joint, reduced range of motion, and a clicking or grinding sensation.
    • Management: Depending on the severity, it might require surgical intervention to adjust or replace the loosened components.
  3. Nerve Injury:
    • Description: The nerves around the elbow might be injured during the surgery.
    • Symptoms: Numbness, tingling, or weakness in the forearm or hand.
    • Management: Most nerve injuries are temporary and improve with time. Physical therapy can help. Severe nerve injuries might require surgical exploration or repair.
  4. Blood Clots (Deep Vein Thrombosis):
    • Description: Blood clots can form in the veins of the legs or arms, which can be life-threatening if they travel to the lungs (pulmonary embolism).
    • Symptoms: Swelling, pain, warmth, and redness in the calf or arm.
    • Management: Blood-thinning medications are prescribed to prevent or treat clots. It's crucial to seek medical attention immediately if symptoms arise.
  5. Stiffness or Limited Range of Motion:
    • Description: The elbow joint might not achieve its full range of motion post-surgery or might become stiff.
    • Symptoms: Difficulty in bending or straightening the elbow, pain during movement.
    • Management: Physical therapy and regular exercises can help improve the range of motion. In rare cases, a surgical procedure called a manipulation under anesthesia might be needed.

It's essential for patients to be aware of these potential complications and maintain regular follow-ups with their orthopedic surgeon. Early detection and intervention can prevent long-term issues and ensure the best possible outcome after the surgery.

Cost of Total Elbow Replacement (TER) in India:

  • Location Variance: Costs can differ based on cities; metropolitan areas like Mumbai or Delhi might be pricier than smaller cities.
  • Hospital Choice: Premium hospitals or specialty orthopedic centers might charge more than local hospitals.
  • Surgeon's Expertise: Fees can vary based on the surgeon's experience and reputation.
  • Prosthesis Type: Advanced or imported elbow prostheses might be more expensive than standard ones.
  • Insurance Impact: While health insurance is growing in India, the coverage specifics can greatly influence out-of-pocket expenses.
  • Additional Costs: Pre and post-operative care, rehabilitation, and potential complications can add to the total.
  • Average Cost: In India, TER can range from ?1.5 lakh to ?4 lakh or more, depending on the above factors.

On average, without insurance, the cost of Total Elbow Replacement in the U.S. can range from $20,000 to $30,000 or more. However, with insurance, out-of-pocket expenses can be significantly reduced, depending on the coverage.

Rehabilitation and Recovery after Total Elbow Replacement (TER)

The rehabilitation and recovery process is crucial to regain optimal function of the elbow joint after TER. A structured approach ensures that the patient can return to daily activities safely and effectively. Here's a breakdown:

  1. Immediate Postoperative Exercises:
    • Purpose: To prevent stiffness, reduce swelling, and promote blood circulation.
    • Examples:
      • Gentle Range of Motion: Small movements, such as bending and straightening the elbow to the extent comfortable.
      • Hand and Finger Movements: Making a fist, finger stretches, and wrist movements to maintain mobility and prevent stiffness.
  2. Gradual Strengthening and Range of Motion Exercises:
    • Purpose: To restore strength in the muscles around the elbow and improve joint flexibility.
    • Examples:
      • Isometric Exercises: Contracting the muscles without moving the joint, such as pushing against a wall.
      • Resistance Exercises: Using resistance bands or light weights to strengthen the biceps, triceps, and forearm muscles.
      • Stretching: Gentle stretches to improve flexibility and range of motion.
  3. Return to Daily Activities and Work:
    • Timeline: The timeline varies based on the individual's progress, type of work, and specific activities involved.
    • Guidelines:
      • Light activities, such as writing or eating, can usually be resumed within a few days to weeks.
      • Heavier tasks or those requiring significant elbow strain might need to be postponed for several weeks to months.
      • Consultation with a physical therapist or surgeon is essential to determine the appropriate timeline for resuming specific activities.
  4. Precautions and Limitations:
    • Lifting Restrictions: Patients are typically advised to avoid lifting heavy objects for a certain period post-surgery.
    • Avoiding High-Impact Activities: Activities that put excessive strain on the elbow, like hammering or heavy weightlifting, should be avoided or approached with caution.
    • Protecting the Joint: Using protective gear or supports can help in situations where there's a risk of injury.
    • Regular Check-ups: Periodic visits to the orthopedic surgeon are essential to monitor the prosthesis's condition and the overall health of the joint.
    • Listening to the Body: Any pain, discomfort, or unusual sensations should be a signal to stop an activity and consult a healthcare professional.

Rehabilitation and recovery after TER require patience, dedication, and consistent effort. Following the guidance of healthcare professionals and adhering to the recommended exercises and precautions can significantly impact the long-term success of the surgery and the patient's quality of life.

Long-term Outcomes after Total Elbow Replacement (TER)

  1. Expected Lifespan of the Prosthesis:
    • The lifespan of an elbow prosthesis varies but typically ranges from 10 to 20 years. Factors influencing longevity include the type and quality of the prosthesis, the patient's activity level, and adherence to postoperative guidelines.
  2. Signs of Prosthesis Wear or Failure:
    • Pain: Persistent or increasing pain can indicate wear or loosening of the prosthesis.
    • Decreased Range of Motion: Difficulty in moving the elbow or reduced flexibility can be signs of prosthesis issues.
    • Swelling or Inflammation: Persistent swelling around the joint might indicate a problem.
    • Clicking or Grinding Sensations: These could be indicative of component wear or misalignment.
  3. Potential Need for Revision Surgery:
    • Over time, even with the best care, the prosthesis might wear out or become loose. In such cases, a revision surgery might be required to replace the worn-out components or the entire prosthesis.
    • The decision for revision surgery is based on the patient's symptoms, the condition of the prosthesis, and overall health considerations.
  • Importance of Patient Education and Adherence to Postoperative Care:
    • Educating patients about the do's and don'ts after TER is crucial. Proper care can extend the lifespan of the prosthesis and ensure optimal joint function.
    • Adherence to physical therapy, regular exercises, and postoperative guidelines can significantly reduce the risk of complications and prosthesis wear.
  • The Role of Regular Follow-up for Optimal Outcomes:
    • Periodic check-ups with the orthopedic surgeon allow for early detection of any issues with the prosthesis or the joint.
    • Regular imaging, like X-rays, can monitor the position and condition of the prosthesis, ensuring any signs of wear or loosening are detected promptly.

While Total Elbow Replacement offers a solution to debilitating elbow joint problems, its long-term success largely depends on the patient's understanding, commitment, and regular medical follow-ups. Proper care and vigilance can ensure that the patient enjoys the benefits of the surgery for many years to come.


Total Elbow Replacement (TER) is a surgical procedure wherein the damaged parts of the humerus (upper arm bone) and ulna (forearm bone) are replaced with artificial components. This procedure aims to alleviate pain, restore function, and improve the range of motion in individuals with severely damaged elbow joints.
he lifespan of an elbow prosthesis typically ranges from 10 to 20 years. However, the exact duration can vary based on factors such as the type and quality of the prosthesis, the patient's activity level, and adherence to postoperative guidelines.
Potential complications of TER include infection, prosthesis loosening or dislocation, nerve injury, blood clots, and stiffness or limited range of motion. It's essential to be aware of these risks and maintain regular follow-ups with the orthopedic surgeon for early detection and intervention.
The recovery period after TER can vary based on individual factors. Generally, patients can expect to start light activities within a few weeks, with a more extended period (often several months) required for complete recovery and return to more strenuous tasks.
Returning to sports after TER depends on the type of sport and the individual's recovery progress. While low-impact sports may be resumed within months, high-impact or strenuous sports might require more extended periods or even modifications. Always consult with your orthopedic surgeon and physical therapist before resuming sports activities.
Initial follow-ups are usually more frequent, often at 2 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, and then 6 months post-surgery. After the first year, annual check-ups are recommended to monitor the prosthesis and the overall health of the joint.
Elbow prostheses are commonly made from materials like metal (titanium or cobalt-chromium alloys), plastic (polyethylene), and in some cases, ceramic. These materials are chosen for their durability, biocompatibility, and ability to mimic the joint's natural movement.
es, alternatives to TER include conservative treatments like medications, physical therapy, and corticosteroid injections. Surgical alternatives might include arthroscopy, joint debridement, or osteotomy. The best treatment option depends on the severity of the joint damage, the patient's age, activity level, and overall health.
Signs of a failing elbow prosthesis include persistent or increasing pain, decreased range of motion, swelling or inflammation around the joint, and clicking or grinding sensations. If any of these symptoms are observed, it's essential to consult with an orthopedic surgeon promptly.
Preparing for TER involves a thorough medical evaluation, including imaging studies and blood tests. Patients are advised to maintain good physical health, stop certain medications, and refrain from smoking. Mental preparation, understanding the procedure, and setting realistic expectations are also crucial.