Elbow Arthritis

Elbow arthritis occurs when the cartilage of the elbow joint becomes worn or damaged. This cartilage normally acts as a cushion between the bone and the joint, and when it is worn away, the direct contact and friction between the bones causes pain, swelling, decreased strength and range of motion. Arthritis of the elbow is often caused by previous trauma or injury to the elbow joint, but can also be the result of aging, as the cartilage within the joint wears down over time.

Symptoms of Elbow Arthritis

The main symptoms of arthritis of the elbow are pain and swelling, which may worsen over time or with movement. Additional symptoms may include:

  • Stiffness
  • Limited range of motion
  • Locking of the joint
  • Tingling in the elbow

As arthritis of the elbow progresses, some individuals may experience a numbness in their ring and pinky fingers. This may be caused by swelling in the elbow that puts pressure on the ulnar nerve, causing a tingling sensation in the elbow and possible numbness in the fingers.

Diagnosis of Elbow Arthritis

To diagnose arthritis of the elbow, a doctor will review all symptoms and perform a physical examination. X-rays and other imaging tests are often used to assess the amount of damage to the joint.

Treatment of Elbow Arthritis

Arthritis of the elbow is commonly treated with a combination of methods. Avoiding certain physical activities that place stress on the elbow may be helpful. Medication may also be used to treat pain and may include:
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Acetaminophen
  • Prescription pain relievers
  • Corticosteroid injections

Physical therapy may be a successful form of treatment for some patients. Severe cases of arthritis of the elbow may require surgery to smooth irregular tissue surfaces, or to reposition or replace the joint through arthroscopy.

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