Elbow Arthrocentesis: Technique & Complications

Elbow Arthrocentesis, also known as joint aspiration, is a procedure to drain synovial fluid from the joint. The synovial fluid is a non-Newtonian fluid found between the articular cartilages to reduce friction of the joints.

This procedure is done to reduce swelling and pain from the fluid collected around the elbow. It may also be done to examine the fluid to determine causes of swelling and arthritis. Some of these causes could be infection, gout or rheumatoid disease. It is important to remove the inflamed fluid and the enzymes in the white blood cells to stop further harm on the joint.

Before the surgery, make sure to let your doctor know of your full medical condition and known allergies to prevent complications. Firstly, the area to be aspirated would be cleaned and applied with local anesthetic. A sterile needle and syringe would then be inserted into the elbow where synovial fluid is extracted. Sometimes, medication is injected after the extraction. Dressing is then applied. The fluid would be sent to the lab for examination.

As with any wounds, the dressing has to be kept clean and dry. You might feel slightly sore for the next few days but some painkillers prescribed by the doctor should suffice. It is advised to avoid strenuous use of the arm for the next 5 days.

Even though this is a low-risk surgical procedure, there is still a possibility that complications may occur. These might include infection, swelling, bruising or discomfort at the aspiration site. If any of these symptoms are experienced, notify your doctor immediately:

  • Fever
  • Redness, swelling or bleeding at the aspiration site
  • Increased pain around the aspiration site


If cortisone-related medications are injected into the joint, complications are uncommon but may be serious if occur. Keep a close watch for these symptoms:

  • Inflammation
  • Increased blood sugar (Worsened condition of diabetes)
  • Aggravation of preexisting infection
  • Weight gain
  • Puffy face
  • Easy bruising