What is it?
Elbow synovectomy surgery is done to remove inflamed joint tissue (synovium) that is causing unacceptable pain or is limiting ability to function or range of motion. Ligaments and other structures may be moved aside to access and remove the inflamed joint lining. The procedure may be done using arthroscopy.
A joint is where the ends of two or more bones meet—such as an elbow, knee, shoulder, or ankle. Thick bands of tissue surround the joint, forming a capsule that holds it together. The undersurface of the joint capsule is lined by a thin membrane called the synovium. The synovium produces a fluid that lubricates the joint.
The synovial fluid nourishes loose bodies that they may grow, calcify (harden), or ossify (turn into bone). When this occurs, they can roll around freely inside the joint space. As the move around, they can damage the cartilage that covers the joint.
The condition most often occurs in patients between the ages of 30 and 50. Men are affected twice as often as women. The condition occurs spontaneously and is not inherited.
Medical history and examination of the joint for warmth, tenderness to the touch, swelling, or thickening of the joint that feels “spongy” will determine if an MRI or other imaging is needed.
- Joint pain
- Joint swelling
- Limited range of motion in the affected joint
- Fluid in the joint
- A creaking, grinding, or popping noise during movement (crepitus)
- The nodules can sometimes be felt in joints that are close to the skin
Elbow synovectomy surgery may be performed either as an open surgical procedure or with the aid of arthroscopy, in which the surgeon uses miniaturized instruments, fiberoptic technology, and a tiny camera inserted through very small incisions in the skin. Magnified pictures from the camera are projected onto a television monitor which guides the surgeon throughout the procedure. The surgery primarily involves the removal of inflamed synovium. Surgery may also include elbow debridement which consists of smoothing rough, fibrillated articular structures as well as the removal of damaged tissues, bone and loose bodies that interfere with the motion of the joint.
The technique will depend upon:
- The number of loose bodies
- The size of the loose bodies
- The condition of the synovium
- Illustration of traditional open procedure to remove loose bodies
The type of surgery will depend on the problem and which method the doctor prefers.
Postoperative Care and Recovery
How long it takes to return to daily activities will vary, depending on the type of procedure. Specific instructions to guide rehabilitation.
The condition may return in up to 20 percent of patients. Follow-up visits are needed to check for any recurrence. The joint should be monitored for any progression of osteoarthritis. Physical therapy is required for the return of full function.
Risks and Complications
As with all surgery, risks and complications can occur. The possible complications following synovectomy include: infection, bleeding, nerve and blood vessel damage, damage to bone surface, and no relief of symptoms. Synovium can grow back and may require repeat surgery.
Rotator Cuff Tear Symptoms
The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles (subscapularis, supraspinatus, infraspinatus, and teres minor). The rotator cuff surrounds the ball and socket joint (glenohumeral joint) and provides stability to the joint as well as movement. Because the shoulder is a shallow joint and the most mobile joint in the body, it requires the rotator cuff for stability. If let untreated tears can lead to arthritis of the shoulder (rotator cuff arthropathy). This doesn’t mean that good function can’t be maintained with a tear. In fact, many people are able to maintain function despite a tear because the shoulder remains balanced with the remaining rotator cuff and other muscles that control shoulder movement.
Muscle inserts into bone via tendon. In the vast majority of cases, when a tear occurs the tendon pulls away from the bone. Broadly speaking, tears are classified as partial or full-thickness. Partial tears go part way through the tendon while full-thickness tears represent complete detachment. Frequently, an MRI will report “partial-tearing.” Since most people over the age of 40 to 50 have some changes within the rotator cuff, partial tears usually not a problem. The distinction with partial tears is when the tears are considered “high-grade,” meaning that they go almost all the way through the tendon.
Rotator cuff tears may occur after an injury or repetitive activity over time, but most cases occur without an injury. As we age the rotator cuff tendon degenerates and age and genetics are the greatest risk factors for a tear. Studies show that about 50% of people over the age of 65 have a full-thickness rotator cuff tears. Most of these people don’t even know they have a tear!
Treatment for rotator cuff tears is based on age, health, and response to conservative treatment. The rotator cuff tendon is not capable of repairing itself. Rather then tear will stay the same size or enlarge over time. In people under the age of 60, the risk of progression is about 50% in a two-year period. The ability to get healing with a surgical repair depends upon age, the tear size, muscle atrophy, associated arthritis, and health (smoking and diabetes for instance). One must also consider timing of repair. Traumatic tears have a better outcome if fixed within 6 months of injury. Additionally, after about six months of symptoms atrophy may occur. Unfortunately, atrophy of the rotator cuff is not considered reversible. Based on this, if someone desires repair, I typically recommend performing this within six months of beginning treatment.
Guidelines for surgery are general and must be individualized as noted above. But, as a general guideline, I recommend repair for all full-thickness tears in people under the age of 60 given the risk of increase in tear size. For people between the ages of 60 and 70, treatment is based on the above factors with health and activity expectations being the most important factors. For people over the age of 70, I nearly always recommend an attempt at conservative treatment. Surgery is then considered if one does not respond to conservative treatment.
For partial tears, conservative treatment should almost always be attempted first since these tears progress slowly or may not progress at all. Then surgery is considered if one does not respond to 4 to 6 months of conservative treatment.
Treatment options include:
Anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) are used to reduce pain and inflammation. The max does for ibuprofen is 800 mg three times per day. The max does for naproxen is 500 mg twice daily. Prolonged usage should be avoided and these should be taken with food since they can affect the stomach lining. If one experiences an upset stomach these should be stopped.
Injection of a steroid (cortisone) may be used to provide pain relief and facilitate physical therapy. I perform these injections with an ultrasound machine. This allows direct visualization of the joint and improved accuracy of the injection. Up to 3 injections over a 2 year period are allowed. Beyond this there are typically diminishing returns and excessive injections may be detrimental to the rotator cuff.
Alternative injections include Toradol (an anti-inflammatory agent similar to ibuprofen), prolotherapy, or platlet-rich plasma (PRP). ). I use Toradol in people who do not tolerate steroids. Prolotherapy involves injecting a substance such as sugar into tissue to “stimulate a healing response.” I do not perform prolotherapy as it has not been shown to improve symptoms in rotator cuff tears. PRP involves taking a small amount of blood from a patient, spinning in a centrifuge to separate the growth factors from the red blood cells, and then injecting the growth factors back into the shoulder to potentially decrease pain. While PRP has anti-inflammatory properties, it has not been shown to heal the rotator cuff. Therefore, it is not covered by insurance and is an out-of-pocket expense. Typically a series of 3 injections are performed at weekly intervals for 3 weeks.
Physical therapy with strengthening is one of the mainstays of treatment of rotator cuff tears. Long-term studies show that despite not healing the rotator cuff, therapy can lead to substantial improvements in function with good patient satisfaction. The core exercises in strengthening the rotator cuff are provided at the end of this handout. These exercises can be performed twice per day, 5 days a week.
Most tears, regardless of size can be repaired. I perform all my rotator cuff repairs arthroscopically. This is less invasive and therefore less painful than an open incision. It also allows a better view of the rotator cuff. This procedure requires general anesthesia, takes about 60 to 90 minutes to perform, and patients go home the same day. Small incisions are made in the shoulder, a scope is inserted, and the rotator cuff is repaired with anchors. Anchors are essentially headless screws which are placed flush with the bone. These anchors have sutures that are used to bring the tendon done to the bone so that the tendon can heal to the bone. The long-term outcome of this procedure is very good (>90% success in most cases) and the risk of complication is very low (1/5000 chance of infection). However, repair requires a long recovery period and the tendon takes about 12 weeks to heal into the bone. Therefore, a sling is worn for 6 weeks after surgery. Specific motion exercises afterwards are tailored to the tear pattern (patient-specific). The sling is removed at 6 weeks and motion is progressed. Strengthening is allowed at 12 weeks, followed by gym activities at 4 months. Full recovery takes 6 months for small tears and 12 months for large or massive tears.