Arthritis of the Elbow

Although the elbows are not weight-bearing joints, they are considered to be most important for the functioning of the upper limbs. Hence, even minor trauma or disease affecting the elbow may cause pain and limit the function of the upper limbs. Arthritis is one of the common disease conditions affecting the elbow joint.

Signs and Symptoms of Elbow Arthritis

Elbow arthritis is a condition that causes pain, swelling, stiffness, and interference with the use of the arm. Range of motion is typically affected, especially the ability to bend and straighten the elbow. Mechanical symptoms such as locking can also occur, and occasionally the ulna nerve can be affected.

Causes of Elbow Arthritis

Arthritis can affect all ages but is most commonly seen in people aged over 40 years. The most common cause is wear-and-tear arthritis, which is typically seen in males who participate in manual types of work. Apart from that, traumatic injuries, fractures, and dislocations make you more susceptible to arthritis (post-traumatic arthritis). Inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis also not uncommonly affect the elbow.

Diagnosis of Elbow Arthritis

Arthritis in the elbow is diagnosed by a history and thorough physical examination and X-rays of the affected joint. Occasionally a CT scan may be ordered to help define the pathology better and for treatment planning.

Treatment Options for Elbow Arthritis

Treatment can include conservative options such as medications and steroid injections to relieve pain, activity modification and use of splints.

Surgery is usually considered if non-surgical treatment fails to offer relief. For wear and tear arthritis in the younger patient arthroscopy (keyhole surgery) can be effective at alleviating pain, improving range of motion, and preventing locking from loose bodies. It is also effective at delaying the need for more extensive reconstructive surgery.

When arthritis becomes end-stage and the joint is severely damaged, total elbow joint replacement is the best way to restore function and relieve the pain.. In total elbow replacement surgery, the damaged regions of the elbow joint are replaced with artificial components, much like in other joint replacement surgery procedures.

Other Elbow Conditions