Elbow Arthritis

What is elbow arthritis?

Elbow arthritis refers to inflammation of the elbow joint. It involves deterioration of the smooth cartilage covering the joint surfaces. Damage to this cartilage may be due to:

  • normal wear and tear over time
  • overuse of the joint
  • injury

Manual workers, especially those who work with vibrating tools, are prone to elbow arthritis.

What are the symptoms of elbow arthritis?

The most common symptoms of arthritis of the elbow are pain and stiffness. The pain commonly occurs at the extremes of motion – you may not be able to fully flex or extend your elbow. Symptoms become worse as the condition progresses and may find your elbow aches with use and at rest.

You may also notice bony swellings around the elbow. These occasionally press on the ulnar nerve, which gives numbness and tingling in the little and ring fingers of the hand. This can also lead to weakness felt in the hand.

Sometimes people feel a locking and clicking sensation due to loosefragments of bone within the joint.

What does your doctor look for?

Your doctor will take your medical history to look for clues that help make a diagnosis (eg previous injury). Your doctor will also look at how well and how far your elbow moves in different directions. This is called your range of motion. If you have elbow arthritis, the affected side commonly has a reduced range of motion compared to the other side. Soft tissue and bony swellings may also be obvious.

By carefully examining your shoulder, your doctor can identify what is wrong and how best to treat your problem. The key point when considering treatment options for shoulder arthritis is whether the rotator cuff tendons are intact or damaged. This will make a significant difference to the treatment options possible.

What investigations are needed?

An X-ray is commonly ordered to confirm the diagnosis.

When surgery is being considered, a CT or MRI scan may be needed. These help your doctor plan the approach for surgery.

How is elbow arthritis treated?

There is no cure for arthritis but there are several very effective treatments. All have the same goals – to control pain and improve the function of the elbow so that you can move better and get on with everyday living.

Treatments include:

  • non-drug therapy (eg physiotherapy, exercises, joint care programs)
  • medications (egoral anti-inflammatories or joint injections)
  • surgery

Our specialists at Orthopaedic Clinics Gold Coast will work with you to create the best treatment plan for your particular situation.

Surgery for elbow arthritis

Surgical options include:

  • arthroscopic removal of any bony growths or loose pieces of bone that can block flexion or extension of the elbow
  • open surgery to remove larger bony growths – this is frequently done with an arm nerve block to allow physiotherapy after the procedure, which is important for recovery
  • elbowjoint replacement for very severe elbow arthritis in people who have low demands on their elbow

Possible complications

Most people are happy with the results of surgery, but complications do occur occasionally. Some of the complications specifically related to elbow surgery are infection (less than 1% chance) and nerve damage, which is also has less than 1% chance of happening but can be very debilitating.Recurrence of elbow stiffness or loss of range of motion can also occur and, in in rare occasions, the surgery may not completely resolve the symptoms of elbow arthritis.