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Elbow Arthritis

Arthritis is an inflammatory disease that causes pain and stiffness in your joints. The elbow joint is most commonly affected by osteoarthritis, otherwise known as “wear and tear” arthritis. Those with a history of elbow injury, such as a fracture, or ligament injury often develop osteoarthritis in the elbow, as joint wear is accelerated by each. Whether due to a single injury or a combination of activities, elbow instability needs to be addressed.

What causes it?

Your risk of elbow arthritis increases with any of the following:

  • Prior elbow injury or surgery
  • Work or activities that place high demands on the elbow
  • Presence of joint cartilage loss
  • The existence of previous ligament damage

Elbow osteoarthritis that develops without previous injury is more prevalent in men. Onset normally occurs in those 50 years and older, though some will have symptoms earlier.

How do you know you have it?

Common symptoms of elbow arthritis are:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Finger numbness
  • Range of motion limitations that include “locking” or “grating”

How we fix it

The OSI upper extremity team is here to listen, discuss your concerns, and examine you for signs and symptoms of elbow arthritis. Our goal is to reduce or eliminate functional limitations. Under the direction of your OSI physician, any of the following may be used to determine the best course of care:

  • Physical exam: Your doctor will discuss your overall medical history, examine your arm, and talk about any previous injuries or symptoms you may have had.
  • X-rays: Standard X-rays will show arthritic changes in the elbow (advanced diagnostic imaging such as MRI or CT is typically not necessary for the diagnosis of elbow arthritis).

Nonsurgical Treatment

Treatment options for elbow arthritis depend on a number of factors, including the present stage of the disease, prior history, X-ray results, the general medical condition of the patient, as well as their desires.

  • Anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs such as ibuprofen) to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Physical therapy. Specific exercises can help increase range of motion and flexibility, as well as help strengthen the muscles.
  • Activity Modification. Job and/or leisure activities that potentially aggravate symptoms may necessitate a reduction of these activities.
  • Corticosteroid injections often provide temporary pain relief. An alternative to steroids is the injection of hyaluronic acid to improve joint fluid quality.

Surgical Treatment

A surgical approach may be necessary if nonsurgical techniques do not alleviate your symptoms. Arthroscopy, a minimally invasive surgical option, is used to remove fragmented bone and cartilage, along with any degenerative tissue or bone spurs.