Elbow Arthritis

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What is elbow arthritis?

Elbow arthritis is a condition that degrades the cartilage lining of the joint, causing damage that is painful and debilitating. As with wrist and hands, there are three common types of arthritis that affect the elbow: osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and post-traumatic arthritis.

What are the symptoms of elbow arthritis?

All types of arthritis have symptoms of pain, swelling and stiffness. The inflammation associated with arthritis often leaves the joint warm to the touch. Some symptoms differ according to the type of arthritis. However, all involve some or all of the following:

Osteoarthritis symptoms:

  • Deep pain in elbow with movement or lifting
  • Difficulty bending or extending the elbow
  • Catching or locking of the joint with bending

A careful examination by the experienced physicians at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush Hand, Wrist & Elbow Institute can determine the type and extent of arthritic damage.

Who is likely to get elbow arthritis?

Elbow arthritis can affect people of all ages, yet each type of arthritis has different risk groups. Osteoarthritis is more common in active people or those who consistently use repetitive actions at work or at home. Rheumatoid arthritis is found most commonly in women and can run in families. Post-traumatic arthritis can occur in anyone after an injury. These are the most common risk factors for arthritis:

  • Gender — more prominent in men with osteoarthritis and women with rheumatoid disease
  • Active lifestyle
  • Genetics
  • Advanced age
  • Injury to the joint
  • Physically demanding career

If you are experiencing pain, discomfort or immobility in your elbow, come for an evaluation by some of the most reputable hand, wrist and elbow physicians at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush Hand, Wrist & Elbow Institute, who practice out of Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, as well as Oak Park Hospital. They will help determine the most comprehensive analysis and treatments for you.

What causes arthritis in the elbow?

It is not known for sure what causes osteoarthritis of the elbow. The inflammation and wearing down of the cartilage between the bones of the joint from repetitive use can contribute. Rheumatoid arthritis may be associated with genetic factors. Post-traumatic arthritis is caused by damage to the cartilage in the elbow from an accident or injury.

How is elbow arthritis diagnosed?

Elbow arthritis is diagnosed through careful examination of the elbow and other joints throughout the body. The specialized physicians at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush (MOR) Hand, Wrist & Elbow Institute consider factors such as extent of pain, joint mobility, swelling, appearance and lifestyle to help determine the diagnosis. An X-ray or other imaging test may be performed to inspect the bones for degeneration. Advanced imaging such as an MRI or CT scan may be required. In some cases, rheumatoid arthritis can be diagnosed with blood or joint fluid tests that check for inflammation indicators.

What are the treatments for elbow arthritis?

Treatment for elbow arthritis is meant to restore function, reduce pain and prevent further damage. Many techniques are used by Chicago's top hand physicians at MOR Hand, Wrist & Elbow Institute.

Non-surgical Treatment Options

Treatment can involve several options listed below according to the specific needs of each patient:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID)
  • Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
  • Physical or occupational therapy
  • Cortisone injections
  • Lubrication injections
  • Braces or splints

Surgical Treatment Options

If the physician decides joint surgery is necessary, there are several different options that are used to treat elbow arthritis, depending on the severity of the condition. They are:

  • Arthroscopic surgery: This is a minimally invasive approach in which small incisions are made in the elbow allowing surgical instruments to remove loose cartilage, inflamed tissue and any bony growths, called bone spurs.
  • Joint debridement: Similar to arthroscopic surgery, joint debridement is used to treat several areas in the elbow with damaged tissue. Tissue can be removed from the front and back of the elbow. This option is good for arthritis conditions that cause pain and significant loss of elbow function. Joint debridement can also be performed with a minimally invasive approach.
  • Joint replacement: This is a good option for those who are over 60 years of age, have rheumatoid arthritis or have low physical demands on the elbow. Elbow replacement is usually successful at achieving pain relief, motion and restored function of the elbow. The diseased or damaged part of the joint is removed and replaced with a two-piece prosthesis made of metal and high density plastic (similar to knee and hip replacements). The prosthesis is attached to the bones by rods that thread through the bones and are cemented in place they meet each other and form a hinge much like the natural elbow joint allowing for elbow flexion and extension. The Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush Hand, Wrist & Elbow Institute physicians have expertise and extensive experience with elbow joint replacements and perform more of these procedures than any center in the state of Illinois.