The elbow is generally speaking less affected by arthritis than other joints in the body, although elbow arthritis can be very painful and can make day-to-day living difficult, for example it can make it hard to bring the hand to the mouth, making eating a meal a challenge.
Elbow arthritis is a result of one (or more) of the following three conditions:
Although osteoarthritis commonly affects other joints, it is relatively rare in the elbow joint. Most sufferers of elbow arthritis caused by osteoarthritis are sportspeople and people who are or have been involved in heavy physical work over a long period.
This particular type of arthritis, which is a type of autoimmune condition, is a relatively common cause of elbow arthritis.
This type of arthritis accounts for the majority of elbow arthritis cases and is a result of previous injury to the elbow, typically either a fracture or dislocation. This sort of trauma can also damage cartilage and change the way that cartilage wears inside the joint.
Elbow arthritis is characterised by the following symptoms:
- Pain in and around the elbow.
- Reduced range of motion of the elbow joint (in some cases significant).
- Stiffness in the elbow.
- Swelling of the elbow.
- A 'grinding' noise or sensation with movement of the elbow.
Tests / Diagnosis
Diagnosis of elbow arthritis involves a physical examination by Dr Moopanar and a review of the patient's medical history. This examination generally looks at the range of motion of the affected elbow compared to the other elbow, and an x-ray may be required to confirm diagnosis. Where surgery is being considered, further scans may be required, either a CT scan or an MRI scan.
Treatment depends on the symptoms and precise cause or causes of the arthritis. Non-surgical treatment involves using pain or anti-inflammatory medication.
In some cases, pain is due either to bone spurs or to a small fragment of bone that has broken away and is 'floating' in the elbow joint. In either of these cases, an elbow arthroscopy may be recommended, whereas in other cases another procedure known as 'capsular release' may be recommended to improve the range of movement of the elbow. Elbow replacement may also be an option for some patients.