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Elbow Arthritis

What is elbow arthritis?

Elbow arthritis is a condition that causes pain and inflammation in the elbow joint. It is most commonly caused by osteoarthritis, as a result of gradual degeneration of the cartilage that lines the bone, either side of the elbow joint. It can also be caused by other types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis.

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Who is affected by elbow arthritis?

Elbow arthritis can affect people of all ages, but it is most common in older adults. It is also more common in people who have had a previous injury to the elbow such as a fracture or a dislocation. It is also seen in individuals who participate in activities that put a lot of stress on the elbow joint, i.e. being a pitcher in baseball or fast bowler in cricket.

What are the main symptoms of elbow arthritis?

 

The main symptoms of elbow arthritis are:

Pain in the elbow

Stiffness in the elbow

Swelling in the elbow

Reduced range of motion in the elbow, usually causing an inability to fully straighten the elbow

Weakness around the elbow

Creaking or popping sounds when moving the elbow

How is elbow arthritis diagnosed?

Elbow arthritis is usually diagnosed based on a physical exam and the patient's medical history. The doctor will ask about the patient's symptoms and any previous injuries to the elbow. The doctor will also examine the elbow for pain, tenderness, swelling, and range of motion limitations. Imaging tests, such as X-rays, ultrasound or MRI scans, may be used to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other causes of elbow pain. An X-ray will demonstrate narrowing of the elbow joint space with bony osteophytes (bony lumps) associated with moderate to severe degenerative change. An ultrasound will also demonstrate narrowing of the joint, possibly with excessive joint fluid (an effusion).

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How is elbow arthritis treated?

 

There is no cure for elbow arthritis, but there are treatments that can help to relieve pain and improve function. Treatment options may include:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers:

    Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol can help to relieve mild to moderate pain.
  • Physiotherapy:

    Physiotherapy can help to improve range of motion and strengthen the muscles around the elbow joint.
  • Corticosteroid injections:

    Corticosteroid injections can help to reduce inflammation and pain in the elbow joint.

Corticosteroid injections can be a highly effective way of reducing inflammation and pain in the elbow joint. At The Joint Injection Clinic, corticosteroid injections are performed after a thorough consent process, whereby the risk and benefits of the procedure are discussed in detail with your doctor. The experienced medical doctor will then place you in a seated position with the elbow resting on the couch. The elbow is cleaned using a cleaning solution to ensure that the procedure is performed under sterile conditions. The elbow joint injection is performed with a small dose of steroid and local anaesthetic, targeting either the back part or the outer part of the joint.

The injection itself is normally completed within 30-60 seconds, after which a plaster is applied and post-injection advice is given.  The patient is advised to look out for any signs of infection, specifically to check whether the local area becomes red, hot, tender, swollen or if they develop a fever.  If this occurs then the patient is asked to contact the clinic immediately at which time a formal reassessment will occur and if needed oral antibiotics can be prescribed.  The patient is also warned that following any injection they may notice a short-term worsening or flare in their symptoms after the local anaesthetic has worn off (4-5 hours).  This may last for 3-5 days and the patient is advised to consider icing of the area using an ice pack for 10-15 minutes every hour as required.

Surgery:

Surgery may be an option for people with severe elbow arthritis that does not respond to other treatments. Surgery options may include:

  • Arthroscopic surgery:

    Arthroscopic surgery is a minimally invasive surgery that can be used to remove loose cartilage and bone spurs from the elbow joint.

  • Open surgery:

    Open surgery may be necessary for more severe cases of elbow arthritis. Open surgery options include elbow joint replacement and elbow fusion.

Additional tips for managing elbow arthritis pain:

  • Rest:

    Avoiding activities that aggravate the pain.

  • Apply ice:

    Applying ice can help to reduce pain and inflammation.

  • Use a brace or splint:

    A brace or splint can help to support the elbow and restrict painful movements.

  • Exercise regularly:

    Exercise can help to strengthen the muscles around the elbow joint and improve range of motion.

If you are experiencing pain and stiffness in your elbow, it is important to see a doctor to get a diagnosis and discuss treatment options. With early diagnosis and treatment, most people with elbow arthritis can manage their pain and maintain a good quality of life.