Why would my doctor recommend fusion surgery to fix my problems with elbow arthritis?

A fusion of any joint eliminates pain by making the bones of the joint grow together, or fuse, into one solid bone. Fusions are used in many joints. They were very common before the invention of artificial joints. Fusions are still performed fairly often to treat arthritis pain. An elbow fusion gets rid of pain because the bones of the joint no longer rub together.

Advanced arthritis can change the alignment of the elbow, leading to deformity. Fusing the bones together improves the alignment and prevents further deformation. Fusion may also be needed to align the elbow after a severe injury.

You will not be able to bend your elbow after fusion surgery. An elbow fusion is a tradeoff. You will lose the hinge motion in your elbow, but you will regain a strong, pain-free elbow joint. Regaining strength is especially important to laborers who work with their arms and hands. Some patients may need range of motion more than strength. In these cases, doctors usually recommend surgeries such as interposition arthroplasty or elbow joint replacement.

The radius bone of the forearm is usually not part of the elbow fusion. The end of the radius forms a joint with the ulna. This joint allows you to pronate and supinate (rotate) your forearm and hand. When this joint is a source of pain, the surgeon may remove the round end of the radius near the elbow. This still allows the forearm to rotate.