Learning about Elbow Arthritis

Elbow arthritis can be very painful when bending and straightening the arms. The main type of elbow arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis, however, osteoarthritis and other injuries can also result in elbow pain.

Rheumatoid elbow arthritis is an illness in the joint linings or synovia in the elbow. Basically, the joint spaces narrow down as the lining of the joint swells. This can bring damage to the bones and soft tissues of the elbows. Most of the time, rheumatoid elbow arthritis affects both elbows as well as other body joints like the hands, wrists, shoulders and knees.

Osteoarthritis, on the other hand, affects the cartilage that cushions the end of the bones. The cartilage basically allows the joints to move smoothly. The bones will then begin to rub against each other causing friction as the cartilage is being destroyed. In addition, trauma and injuries to the elbow can also damage the joint cartilage which will eventually develop into arthritis.  

There are several signs and symptoms of elbow arthritis. They include the following:

1. Pain – In the early stages of elbow arthritis, pain is only felt on the outer joint area but the pain will get worse as the forearm is consistently turned. Also, pain gets worse when the arm is bent or stretched. Aching that is felt every night or when resting is an indication of osteoarthritis and pain felt on both elbows, the wrists and shoulders are indications of rheumatoid arthritis.

2. Swelling – Redness and swelling is seen on the outer part of the elbow.

3. Instability – The elbow will become unstable and difficult to control. It normally gives way when carrying something that is quite heavy.

4. Lack of full movement – It will be difficult to extend or bend the elbow.

5. Locking and stiffness – The elbows will sometimes lock when bending. Also, stiffness can be felt due to osteoarthritis.

To diagnose elbow arthritis, different tests are conducted by the doctor. The doctor will look for swelling and tenderness of the elbows during physical examination and then the doctor will also examine the range of motion that the patient can perform like what positions are painful. X-rays can also help the doctor diagnose the severity of the elbow arthritis. If the pain is due to arthritis after an injury, the X-ray will show incorrect joining of the elbow bones.

Two types of treatment for elbow arthritis:

1. Non-surgical treatment such as:

• Exercise

• Intake of Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen

• Physical therapy

2. Surgical treatment such as:

• Arthroscopy

• Synovectomy

• Osteotomy

• Arthroplasty

If you are suffering from elbow arthritis, it is best that you know more about the disease and what method of treatment is appropriate for you by consulting a specialist.