Arthritis of the elbow

Arthritis of the elbow is a condition in which the elbow’s cartilage is injured or worn. This is a common condition in the elderly population, as one of the leading causes of arthritis is the deterioration of the cartilage over time. Alternatively, the elbow joint can be damaged from a previous injury such as a fracture or dislocation.

Arthritis of the elbow is not as common as arthritis in other joints, such as the knees and hips. This is because the elbow is a resilient joint with strong stabilizing ligaments, allowing it to endure a lot of force before being injured.

The elbow joint can collect loose debris or cartilage as a result of arthritis, resulting in pain and  limited range of motion. In advanced cases, surgery may be needed to return to full range of motion. 

Causes and risk factors

Seniors and those with prior history of elbow problems are most at risk for arthritis. Some risk factors contributing to elbow arthritis include:

  • Prior dislocation or fracture
  • Prior surgery on the elbow joint
  • Loss of joint cartilage
  • Overuse injury (such as repeatedly pitching a baseball)

Symptoms

The main symptoms of elbow arthritis are:

  • Persistent pain
  • Loss of range of motion
  • “Locking up” of the elbow
  • Numbness in the ring and small fingers (advanced cases)
  • Swelling in the elbow joint

Treatment options

There are both nonsurgical and surgical treatment options for treating arthritis of the elbow, depending on how advanced your case is. Nonsurgical treatment is usually used for early-stage arthritis and usually includes taking pain relievers and anti-inflammatories, attending physical therapy, and/or adjusting your lifestyle and activities to prevent worsening the condition.

Late-stage cases of arthritis can usually be seen on X-rays if there has been significant damage, and in these cases, surgery is typically needed. If debris is collected in the elbow joint, arthroscopic surgery can be used to remove it in a minimally invasive way. This allows for shorter, less painful recovery than traditional surgery.