Elbow Arthritis

What is Elbow Arthritis?

Elbow arthritis is the wearing out of the elbow’s smooth cartilage liner. With this comes the formation of bone spurs (osteophytes) in and around the elbow joint (see pictures). It is a problem that does not resolve on its own and often gets worse with time. It usually hurts and leads to a loss of motion and function.

What causes Elbow Arthritis?

Elbow arthritis can be caused from overuse, such as in a person who lifts heavy weights or in a person who works as a laborer. It can also be caused by autoimmune problems such as rheumatoid arthritis. Sometimes it happens years after an old injury.

What are the symptoms of Elbow Arthritis?

The main symptoms of elbow arthritis are pain and loss of range-of-motion. Other symptoms include swelling, loss of function, and instability.

How to tell if you have Elbow Arthritis?

To find out if a person has elbow arthritis an x-ray is needed. A CT scan can be helpful to better assess the extent of the arthritis. An MRI is usually not needed.

How is Elbow Arthritis treated?

Treatment of elbow arthritis starts with stopping painful activities, using oral anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), shots of cortisone, and physical therapy.

Shots of cortisone into the elbow often provide some relief. However, the relief is usually temporary. Physical therapy can also provide relief but it can also make the symptoms worse. When this happens the therapy should be stopped.

If these treatments don’t help the pain and improve a person’s function, surgery can be considered. Surgery involves removal of the bone spurs (osteophytes). It can be done arthroscopically or open depending on the amount of bone spurs present. For very advanced arthritis elbow replacement surgery is an option.

Elbow replacement surgery involves removing the arthritic joint and replacing it with a metal and plastic hinge. This surgery takes around 1 to 2 hours and can be done as a same day surgery  or with a 1 night stay in the hospital depending on the medical situation of the person with the arthritis.

After surgery the person can often begin to use their elbow and arm right away for light things like typing, eating, shaving, working a mouse, writing, etc. Lifting activities will begin at 6 weeks after surgery.

Normal Elbow Joint

Elbow Arthritis

Arrows are pointing to bone spurs