The purpose of this study was to evaluate the reoperation rate of elbow synovectomy in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. A total of 103 synovectomies were performed in 88 patients (61 women) with rheumatoid factor-positive rheumatoid arthritis with a mean follow-up of 5.2 years (range, 1-8 years). The survival rate after elbow synovectomy (free from reoperation) was 77% (95% confidence interval, 66%-85%) at 5 years. Eight resynovectomies and fourteen total elbow replacements were performed during the follow-up. No significant improvement in range of motion was detected after synovectomy, but pain relief and patient satisfaction were favorable. Elbows were classified preoperatively (before primary synovectomy) with the Larsen system. All resynovectomies were performed for elbows of grade 0-2 destruction. A significant difference was found between early (Larsen grade 0-2) and late (Larsen grade 3) synovectomies in relation to elbow replacement (P =.002) during the follow-up. Late synovectomy yielded more temporary pain relief with a high rate of elbow arthroplasties.

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