Arthritis of the Elbow | MedStar Health

Elbow arthritis is characterized by an inflammation or destruction of the tissues that line your elbow joint. This inflammation can cause pain, swelling, and joint damage. Types of arthritis that commonly affect your elbow include:

  • Osteoarthritis: The natural aging process can wear away the protective cartilage that allows the many bones in your elbow to move smoothly, causing inflammation, swelling, and pain.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: This immune system dysfunction attacks and wears away the cartilage lining between the bones in your elbow. Rheumatoid arthritis is often most severe in the hands but it also commonly affects the elbow.
  • Post-traumatic arthritis: This type of arthritis occurs as a result of a fracture or other injury to the elbow.

What causes elbow arthritis?

Arthritis in the elbow can be caused by natural wear and tear over time, prior elbow injury, or by a defect in the immune system. Those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis have immune systems that mistakenly attack healthy cells, which causes joint erosion and damage to the elbow joint. Many believe elbow arthritis is caused by a hereditary factor, which is sometimes triggered by environmental factors, including smoking.

What are the symptoms of elbow arthritis?

If you are suffering from elbow pain and other signs of elbow arthritis, it is important to visit a specialist who can help you manage your condition and arthritis pain. Visit MedStar Orthopaedic Institute for a comprehensive evaluation if you notice any of these symptoms of elbow arthritis:

  • Elbow pain
  • Limited range of motion in elbow
  • Catching or locking of the elbow
  • Swelling on or near the elbow
  • Numbness or tingling in ring and pinky fingers

How is elbow arthritis diagnosed?

You can receive an initial exam at MedStar Orthopaedic Institute to diagnose elbow arthritis, which involves:

  • Medical history evaluation: Your physician will ask you questions about when your arthritis pain began, and any prior health concerns.
  • Physical exam: Our doctors will also perform a general physical exam, which includes looking at your elbow to determine any irregularities and signs of elbow arthritis.
  • Imaging tests: Often, we will need to use diagnostic image tests to visualize the severity and location of joint damage. This helps to rule out other causes of your elbow pain.

What are the best elbow arthritis treatment options?

Your MedStar Orthopaedic Institute physician may recommend one or more of the following conservative treatment options to help manage your arthritis elbow pain:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Physical therapy
  • Pain and anti-inflammatory medication
  • Cortisone injections

If conservative options fail or your condition is severe, the following advanced surgical options are also available at MedStar Orthopaedic Institute: