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Elbow Arthritis

Osteoarthritis of the elbow is defined by the loss or damage to the cartilage, either by it being worn down over time or damaged due to injury. Osteoarthritis is not very common in the elbow: It most often occurs in joints that bear much of the body’s weight, like the hips or knees. Elbow arthritis can result in pain and affect the arm’s range of motion, making it difficult to participate in some sports.

Elbow Arthritis Hero Image 2

Osteoarthritis of the elbow is defined by the loss or damage to the cartilage, either by it being worn down over time or damaged due to injury. Osteoarthritis is not very common in the elbow: It most often occurs in joints that bear much of the body’s weight, like the hips or knees. Elbow arthritis can result in pain and affect the arm’s range of motion, making it difficult to participate in some sports.

Osteoarthritis of the elbow generally occurs due to:

• Wear and tear
• Aging (as we age, we are more likely to experience degeneration of cartilage)
• Repetitive activity over time (throwing sports)
• Traumatic injuries such as a fracture or dislocation

What causes Elbow Arthritis?

Osteoarthritis of the elbow generally occurs due to:

• Wear and tear
• Aging (as we age, we are more likely to experience degeneration of cartilage)
• Repetitive activity and use of the elbow overtime, like with throwing sports
• Traumatic injuries, like a fracture or dislocation

Elbow arthritis is rare but occurs most often in these sports:

• Baseball
• Softball
• Golf
• Tennis

Symptoms

You may have osteoarthritis of the elbow if you are over the age of 40 and experience one or more of the following symptoms in the elbow:

• Pain
• Swelling
• Stiffness and decreased range of motion
• Locking of the elbow

When to see a doctor

If you’re experiencing symptoms of osteoarthritis in the elbow, you may want to make an appointment with an orthopedic specialist. Your doctor will examine the elbow for pain, swelling, and tenderness, and assess range of motion.

In order to make a diagnosis, your doctor may prescribe the following imaging tests:

• X-ray
• MRI to rule out other additional injuries or problems

Non-operative treatment

Osteoarthritis of the elbow cannot be cured. However, there are conservative, non-operative treatments that can be used to relieve pain and swelling, increase range of motion, and prolong the life of the joint. These typically include:

• Resting the arm
• Icing the elbow intermittently throughout the day
• Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications to relieve inflammation and pain
• Cortisone injections administered by an orthopedic specialist
• Physical therapy with a licensed professional

You can also try these exercises at home to stretch and strengthen the muscles surrounding the elbow:

Elbow Arthritis

Surgical Treatment

Operative treatment is usually not recommended for elbow arthritis. Occasionally, if you are having mechanical symptoms such as locking or limitation of motion, surgery may be helpful. Surgery is performed to remove bone spurs from the elbow that decrease range of motion or to remove loose pieces of bone or cartilage that may be causing the joint to lock up. This surgery is performed arthroscopically, using a special camera attached to the end of a thin, flexible tube called an arthroscope.

Recovery

Most athletes can recover from elbow arthritis within a few weeks using conservative, non-operative treatments. If you require surgery to remove bone fragments, your recovery time can range from three to six months. Immediately following surgery, you’ll need to rest your arm in a splint for seven to 10 days to allow the joint to heal. Following this recovery period, you will begin range of motion exercises with a licensed physical therapist. When directed by your doctor, you will then begin to stretch and strengthen the arm. You can return to play when you have regained full range of motion and strength with full pain relief.

Arthritis cannot be cured, so it is important to continue to perform your physical therapy exercises to maintain your range of motion and strength.

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