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Elbow arthritis

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What is elbow arthritis?

Arthritis is the swelling and tenderness of one or more joints. The primary symptoms are joint pain and stiffness, which typically worsen with age.


Types of elbow arthritis

There are three types of arthritis in the elbow.


Also known as degenerative arthritis, osteoarthritis is when your bone's smooth outer covering (articular cartilage) is destroyed. When you move your elbow, the bones of the joint rub against each other, causing pain. Osteoarthritis usually affects middle-aged people.


Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks multiple joints throughout the body.

Post-traumatic Arthritis

Post-traumatic arthritis is osteoarthritis that develops after an injury, such as a fracture or dislocation of the elbow.



The severity of symptoms varies significantly from patient to patient. Some patients' symptoms are not constant and may come and go. Symptoms of elbow arthritis may include: 

  • Pain. The most common symptom of arthritis in the elbow is pain. The pain progresses over time and gets worse with activities.

  • Limited range of motion. Limited motion is another common symptom. It may become more challenging to lift your arm to comb your hair or reach up to a shelf.

  • Crepitus. Grinding, clicking, or snapping sound (crepitus) from your elbow.

  • Locking. A cartilage piece may dislodge from the joint and trap between joint spaces, which will block the movement of the elbow.


When should I seek medical help?

You should consult your doctor if you experience the following:

  • Severe pain, swelling and bruising around the elbow

  • Unable to move your elbow properly

  • Elbow pain does not improve after home care

  • Pain that occurs even when you are resting your arm

  • Increasing redness, swelling or pain in the injured area



To diagnose elbow arthritis, your doctor will take your case history and past medical history into account. They will check to see if it is tender in any area or if there is a deformity. To measure the range of motion of your elbow, your doctor will have you move your arm in different directions. They will also test your arm strength.


Other investigations that can help your doctor confirm your diagnosis include X-rays.

X-rays will show a joint space narrowing and any bone changes such as bone spur (osteophyte) formation.



The goal of treatment is to reduce pain and restore function. The following are some examples of non-surgical treatment for a golfer’s elbow: 

  • Rest or change in activities. You may need to change how you move your arm to avoid provoking pain.

  • Physical therapy exercises may improve your elbow's range of motion, strength, and function.

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen, may reduce inflammation and pain.

  • Corticosteroid injections in the elbow can reduce inflammation and pain instantly. 


Your doctor may discuss surgical options with you if your pain causes disability and is not relieved with nonsurgical treatment. The following are some examples of surgery: 

  • Arthroscopy. Cases of mild arthritis can be treated with arthroscopy. It is a minimally invasive procedure. During the process, your doctor can clean out the inside of the joint. Although the surgery provides pain relief and may increase the range of motion, it will not eliminate arthritis from the joint.

  • Elbow joint replacement (arthroplasty). Elbow replacement surgery can treat advanced arthritis of the joint. This procedure removes damaged parts of the elbow and replaces them with artificial components.


Prevention of arthritis of the elbow

Here are some examples of ways to prevent arthritis of the elbow:

  • Exercises to strengthen the elbow joint and muscles.

  • Avoid smoking as it decreases blood flow to the soft tissues and delays recovery.

  • Avoid overuse of the elbow.

  • Warm up before working out.

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