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OBJECTIVE: To evaluate longterm results and survival rate of open synovectomy of the elbow joint in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). METHODS: Between 1986 and 2000, synovectomy of the elbow was performed on 103 joints in 92 patients with RA. Eighty-five joints were included in this study. Mean age at time of surgery was 52 years (range 13 to 62 yrs). On 13 elbows with Larsen stage I and II disease, early synovectomy preserving the radial head was performed; in 72 cases with Larsen stage III and IV, late synovectomy with radial head resection was necessary. RESULTS: In early synovectomy, one joint received prosthetic joint replacement and 2 joints underwent resynovectomy a mean of 9 years after primary surgery. The survival rate (no further operations) was 91% after 5 years and 78% after 10 years. In late synovectomy, 16 elbow joints were operated again a mean of 4.6 years after primary surgery (10 prosthetic joint replacements, 2 resection interposition arthroplasties, 4 resynovectomies). Survival rate was 82% after 5 years and 66% after 10 years. Sixty-one elbows were examined clinically at a mean followup period of 8.7 years (range 2.8-17.3 yrs). There was a significant improvement of the Morrey score at followup, especially due to effective relief of pain. Improvement of joint motion was seen in late synovectomy for pronation and supination. The mean preoperative Larsen stage was 3.11, which decreased significantly to 3.66 at followup. CONCLUSION: Our findings suggest that synovectomy is a safe and effective procedure in differential treatment of RA of the elbow.