Elbow arthroscopy: Early complications and associated risk factors

Gregory N. Nelson, Tiffany Wu, Leesa M. Galatz, Ken Yamaguchi, Jay D. Keener

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Scopus citations


Background: Elbow arthroscopy is increasingly used to treat complex pathology. The purpose of this study was to investigate early complication rates after elbow arthroscopy and identify risk factors for adverse events. Methods: Consecutive elbow arthroscopies performed during a 13-year period were reviewed, identifying early perioperative complications. Major complications included deep infection, permanent nerve injury, or complications requiring additional anesthesia. Minor complications included superficial wound complications and transient nerve palsies. Complications were compared with a surgical complexity scale based on the procedure performed, the number of arthroscopic portals, and tourniquet time. Results: Of 417 procedures, there were 37 minor (8.9%) and 20 major (4.8%) complications. The rates of superficial and deep infections were 6.7% and 2.2%, respectively. Major complications included 9 deep infections, 6 cases of heterotopic ossification requiring further surgery, and 4 manipulations under anesthesia. There were 7 transient sensory nerve complications, and no motor deficits. No differences in complication rates were seen between low-, moderate-, and high-complexity (10.2%, 16.3% and 14.4%, respectively) cases. Intraoperative steroid injections were strongly associated with postoperative superficial (14.1% vs 2.0%) and deep infection (4.9% vs 0.4%) in elbows receiving vs those not receiving steroid (P < .0001). Conclusions: Complications of elbow arthroscopy are seen in approximately 14% of cases. Most complications are minor, not affecting clinical outcome. Major complications occur in 5% of cases, often requiring repeat surgery. Intraoperative postsurgical steroid injections are associated with increased risk of perioperative infections. Case complexity does not appear to affect the rate of complications with modern surgical techniques.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)273-278
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2014


  • Arthroscopy
  • Complications
  • Elbow
  • Infection


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