Elbow Arthritis

Arthritis in the elbow can cause a lot of pain when bending or straightening it. This condition can make it difficult for you to perform simple tasks such as carrying a small bag. The condition is brought about by rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. In addition, injuries/trauma around your elbow can also cause arthritis in your elbow.

Elbow Arthritis Anatomy


Your elbow is a junction where two bones of your forearm form a joint with your upper arm. To be precise, the ulna of your pinky finger side and the radius on your thumb side meet the humerus to form the elbow.

Up to three joints make up the elbow, and they include 1) ulnohumeral 2) radiocapitellar and 3) proximal radioulnar joints. The ulnohumeral joint is formed particularly where the humerus and ulna meet. This type of joint plays a critical role in bending and straightening your elbow.  The radiocapitellar and proximal radioulnar joints are involved in pronation and supination (twisting of your palm to face up or down). The proximal radioulnar joint, however, is the junction where the ulna and radius meet. The main function of this joint is to help you rotate your lower arm.

Other major structures making up your elbow anatomy include the ligaments (both ulnar-collateral and lateral collateral ligaments), muscles, and tendons. The main muscles that bend and straighten your arm at the elbow are the triceps and biceps.

On the other hand, the muscles involved in finger and wrist movement are flexors and extensors. The Biceps tendon and triceps tendon help the muscles connect with the bones that make up your elbow. 

Most Common Types of Elbow Arthritis


When it comes to elbow arthritis treatment, you need to determine the symptoms first. This is because some other conditions may cause symptoms similar to those of elbow arthritis. That said, there are several types of elbow arthritis known today.

They include:

1. Osteoarthritis

This type of elbow arthritis is not so common as those other types. Mostly, it affects males with a history of sports participation or relatively heavy labor activities. Patients with osteoarthritis experience restricted mobility and changes in fully straightening their elbows, and sometimes locking or catching that can inhibit motion and is very painful.

2. Rheumatoid arthritis

 In addition to being painful, rheumatoid arthritis affects the elbows commonly. It can also cause functional limitations of your elbows. 

More often, patients with rheumatoid arthritis experience swelling, pain, and instability of their elbow joint. With this type of elbow arthritis, such patients find it difficult to perform simple tasks that involve carrying relatively heavy objects. 

Rheumatoid arthritis can also lead to prolonged cases of disability and long-term damage to the tissue. This is because inflammation exerts some pressure around the affected tissues, making them produce certain chemicals that damage the joint surface. 

3. Post-Traumatic Arthritis

In most cases, the post-traumatic arthritis of your elbow can occur after developing an elbow fracture or when you suffer an elbow dislocation. Alternatively, damaged elbow cartilage can lead to cases of progressive arthritis. 

Even though these three forms of arthritis of the elbow can prove to be serious health conditions, several treatment options can help reduce their severity and longevity among the affected individuals. 

Get more information about the severity, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and post-traumatic arthritis from rheumatology experts from our experienced Christopher L. Dillingham, M.D. at Sforzo | Dillingham | Stewart Orthopedics + Sports Medicine. These experts are trained and equipped with the right knowledge and skills to diagnose and suggest the most appropriate treatment option for diseases that affect the joints, bones, and muscles, including the arthritis of the elbow.


Causes of Elbow Arthritis


Whether you are suffering from psoriatic arthritis elbow or septic arthritis elbow, knowing the cause can help find the right treatment. Often, elbow pain resulting from arthritis is due to inflamed or strained soft tissues such as ligaments or tendons. These two components are likely to improve after a few days when you take self-care seriously.

Several reasons contribute to the cases of arthritis of the elbow, and they include:

  1. Some medical conditions may lead to a lot of elbow pain
  2. Quite a number of health factors can cause stiffness or soreness in your elbow, including arthritis.
  3. Stiffness due to arthritis of the elbow may occur because of health problems with your elbow joint itself. Sometimes the same problem can extend to the muscles, ligaments, or covering of the joint within the elbow, causing arthritis of the elbow.
  4. Injury or operation can make the soft tissue turn into scar tissue, which eventually causes elbow stiffness.
  5. In rare cases, your elbow may lock in a fixed position due to a loose bone or cartilage within the joint. Although this cause is short-lived, it is recommended that you remove the loose fragments in surgery, typically done arthroscopically.

Dr. Christopher L. Dillingham, at Sforzo | Dillingham | Stewart Orthopedics + Sports Medicine, provides comprehensive healthcare services for arthritis of the elbow. These knowledgeable orthopedic surgeons focus mainly on helpful therapies tailored to help relieve your joint pain. Plus, they offer elbow arthritis surgery to significantly slow down the progression of this condition.

 Symptoms of Elbow Arthritis


All cases of arthritis are characterized by pain. Restrictions in mobility or limited ability to perform most of the upper extremity activities are additional symptoms of arthritis.

Most patients can easily tolerate mild cases of arthritis of the elbow, such as the upper extremity joint health problems. They can do so since they don’t need to walk with their arms. Besides, most elbow activities do not require a full range of motions.

Below are some of the common symptoms of elbow arthritis to watch out for:

  • Pain in the joints
  • Swelling around the elbow region
  • Instability caused by restricted motions of your elbow
  • Lack of full movement due to pain and damaged tendons or ligaments
  • Locking brought about by an injured ligament or loose bone
  • Stiffness around the elbow

Once you notice the symptoms mentioned above, you can visit your doctor for diagnosis and treatment of elbow arthritis.

 Elbow Arthritis diagnosis 

During your medical office visit, your physician will inquire about your medical history before proceeding to perform a physical examination to identify signs of redness, swellings, and tenderness around your elbow joint.

The physician will order imaging tests like X-rays to help make the diagnosis. The X-ray test will provide images of the affected area to help your doctor determine the right course of action. Potentially, you may be referred to a rheumatologist for your arthritis workup and medical treatment.(non-surgical)

Elbow Arthritis Treatments 

When it comes to treating arthritis of the elbow, you can use nonsurgical treatment methods or surgical treatment options.

1. Nonsurgical Treatment

With nonsurgical treatment, you can take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as naproxen and ibuprofen. The NSAIDs help ease inflammation, swelling, and pain. 

Your physician may prescribe stronger and more effective drugs or a few shots of cortisone to ease the pain for several months.  Make sure to follow your doctor’s instructions when taking these drugs.  An elbow brace for arthritis and splints may also come in handy to provide the much-needed support for your elbow.

2. Surgical Treatment

If nonsurgical techniques don’t work for you, then you can shift to elbow surgery. This treatment option includes procedures such as arthroscopy, synovectomy, and arthroplasty. Whichever surgical procedure your doctor uses, rest assured that your condition will improve. 

Arthritis on the elbow is not as common as arthritis affecting other joints such as hips, hands, and knees. However, quite a number of people suffer from painful arthritis symptoms, which normally impact their daily lives. The affected elbow joints can lead to disability and significant pain. With proper and effective treatment in place, you can easily manage elbow arthritis. Reach out to Sforzo | Dillingham | Stewart Orthopedics + Sports Medicine to seek further help in your elbow arthritis treatment.