Elbow arthritis is a condition that causes pain when someone bends or straightens the elbow. Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common type; osteoarthritis and injuries to the elbow can also cause this kind of pain.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a condition in which the joint lining swells, causing a narrowing of the joint space. This disease destroys bones and soft tissues gradually and can affect not only elbows but other joints at the shoulders, wrists, and hands. Osteoarthritis is a disease of the cartilage in which the cartilage degenerates so much that it allows the ends of the bones to rub together painfully. An injury to the elbow can also damage the cartilage, leading to the development of arthritis.
Elbow Arthritis Symptoms
People with elbow arthritis experience different symptoms. Some common symptoms include:
- Pain in the elbow. Early on, the patient may notice pain mainly on the outer side of the elbow joint. The pain may increase when the forearm is turned or rotated. It may also get worse when the arm is extended. If you notice that your pain is worse at night or when you are at rest, your condition may indicate advanced arthritis.
- Stiffness or loss of range of motion. This symptom is particularly common following an injury.
- Swelling (more common with rheumatoid arthritis).
- Elbow weakness. The elbow may be unstable or give way, making everyday activities difficult.
- Locking. Especially with osteoarthritis, the elbow may “catch” or “lock” into place.
- Noises such as crunching or cracking when moving the elbow.
Not all cases of arthritis require surgery. In many cases, more conservative measures can bring about some relief. These include:
- Rest. Arthritis can be caused by overuse of the joint. Cutting back on physical activity is often helpful. Be sure to give your elbow plenty of rest, especially after exercise.
- Pain management. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen can provide short-term relief. If these options are insufficient, talk to your doctor about stronger drugs that can relieve the symptoms of arthritis such as corticosteroids, anti-malarial agents, and drugs that suppress the immune system.
- Physical therapy. Physical therapists know the best ways to help improve your condition, from applying heat or cold and splinting the elbow to devices that minimize stress on the elbow.
If your symptoms do not respond to the conservative methods listed above, your provider may want you to consider surgery. The type of surgery you need will depend on various factors including the type of arthritis you are experiencing, its stage of advancement, your age, your activity requirements, and your expectations. Procedures such as arthroscopy, osteotomy, synovectomy, and arthroplasty can all help correct elbow problems and relieve pain, helping patients return to their average level of performance.
At Redefine Healthcare, we help patients recover from arthritis conditions of the elbow as well as other types of pain. Contact us today to learn more or to schedule an appointment to discuss your needs.