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The results of total elbow replacement (TER) in 45 elbows of 38 patients with rheumatoid arthritis were compared with results of radial head excision with synovectomy (RHES) in 45 age-matched patients treated in the same unit. The groups were similar with respect to duration of disease and preoperative clinical status, although pain was of longer duration and slightly more severe in the TER group. Failure was defined as the onset of moderate or severe pain after surgery or revision surgery for any reason. Reduction in pain was greater after TER than after RHES (P < .05). Recurrence of pain was common after RHES but was not seen after TER. Movement increased by a similar amount in each group. Complications were more frequent and more serious after TER (4 dislocations, 4 ulnar nerve dysfunctions, 1 significant wound breakdown) than after RHES (2 ulnar nerve dysfunctions, 1 transient wound discharge). Complications after TER were most common in patients who had previous RHES. On survival analysis, TER results were better than RHES results in each successive year. Cumulative survival rates at 10 years were 85% for TER and 69% for RHES, but the difference in rates was not statistically significant. In the medium term, TER relieves pain more reliably than RHES and its use is justified despite the greater risk of complications. In view of the paucity of long-term results for TER, RHES may retain a role in younger patients or in those whose symptoms are related mainly to the radiohumeral joint.

Original publication




Journal article


J Shoulder Elbow Surg

Publication Date





291 - 295


Arthritis, Rheumatoid, Arthroplasty, Replacement, Elbow Joint, Humans, Middle Aged, Pain Measurement, Postoperative Complications, Radius, Reoperation, Survival Analysis, Synovectomy, Treatment Failure