Conditions & Treatments

Arthiritis of the Elbow

Arthritis of the elbow is an inflammatory disease of the joint. It most commonly results from rheumatoid arthritis, although osteoarthritis (the “wear-and-tear” arthritis that often affects older individuals) and injury are also important causes. Affected individuals may experience the following:

  • Pain, particularly with use
  • Swelling or stiffness
  • Loss of range of motion

Rheumatoid arthritis primarily affects the joint lining, while osteoarthritis affects the cartilage that cushions the bones.

To test for arthritis, your physician may assess your range of motion. He or she will also inspect for tenderness and swelling and check for pain upon movement of your arm. Xrays will also aid in the diagnosis, showing any narrowing of the joint, changes in the bones, or loose bone in the joint.

Initial treatment is usually based on changing your activities to stress the joint less, taking anti-inflammatory drugs, and/or engaging in physical therapy. If these approaches do not result in improvement, surgery may be helpful. The best surgical approach depends on your individual situation, but some include:

  • Arthroscopy: this allows the surgeon to look inside the joint and “clean it out,” removing bone fragments or diseased tissue.
  • Synovectomy: diseased synovium, or joint lining, is removed.
  • Osteotomy: In osteoarthritis, abnormally thickened bone may be removed to allow improved joint function.
  • Arthroplasty: this procedure involves total joint replacement and is used for advanced disease.