The purpose of this study was to investigate the results of arthroscopic synovectomy for the treatment of elbows affected by rheumatoid arthritis.

Arthroscopic synovectomy was performed on twenty-nine elbows (twenty-seven patients) between 1984 and 1996. Twenty-one elbows (twenty patients), followed for a minimum of forty-two months, were evaluated clinically with use of the Mayo elbow performance score and radiographic findings. The mean duration of follow-up was ninety-seven months. With use of the system of Larsen et al., we classified all elbows into three groups--Grades 1 and 2, Grade 3, and Grade 4--according to the preoperative radiographic findings. These groups were then compared.

The mean Mayo elbow performance score improved from 48.3 points preoperatively to 77.5 points (an excellent result in two elbows, a good result in thirteen, a fair result in six, and a poor result in none) at two years after the operation and 69.8 points (an excellent result in two elbows, a good result in seven, a fair result in seven, and a poor result in five) at the final follow-up evaluation. The mean score for pain improved from 9.3 points preoperatively to 31.4 points at two years after the operation and 27.9 points at the final follow-up evaluation. Clinically apparent synovitis recurred in five of the twenty-one elbows, and two of the five required total elbow arthroplasty. Among the three groups, only elbows with Larsen Grade-1 or 2 arthritis had a favorable long-term result with regard to total function. The postoperative results were unsatisfactory for Larsen Grade-4 elbows.

Arthroscopic synovectomy in an elbow affected by rheumatoid arthritis is a reliable procedure that can alleviate pain. Our results suggest that one of the most favorable indications for arthroscopic synovectomy is a preoperative radiographic rating of Grade 1 or 2.

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