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Causes and Risk Factors

Elbow arthritis can develop due to several reasons, including:

  • Osteoarthritis: This is the most common form of arthritis, often resulting from wear and tear over time. It typically affects older adults but can also occur in younger individuals due to repetitive use or injury
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: An autoimmune condition where the body’s immune system attacks the synovium (lining of the joints), causing inflammation and joint damage
  • Post-Traumatic Arthritis: This type of arthritis occurs after an injury to the elbow, such as a fracture or dislocation, which may lead to joint degeneration over time
  • Genetics: A family history of arthritis can increase the risk of developing the condition
  • Repetitive Motion: Jobs or activities that involve repetitive elbow movements can increase the risk of arthritis


The symptoms of elbow arthritis may vary depending on the severity and type of arthritis but commonly include:

  • Pain in the elbow joint, which may worsen with activity
  • Swelling and tenderness around the elbow
  • Stiffness and reduced range of motion
  • A grinding sensation or feeling of “locking” in the joint
  • Weakness in the arm or difficulty performing daily tasks

Diagnostic Process

Diagnosing elbow arthritis involves a combination of medical history, physical examination, and imaging tests. The process may include discussing symptoms, duration, and any previous injuries or medical conditions with a doctor. The physical examination assesses the range of motion, tenderness, swelling, and elbow strength.

Imaging tests, such as X-rays, MRI, or CT scans, are used to visualize the joint and identify any structural changes, cartilage loss, or bone spurs. In cases of suspected rheumatoid arthritis, blood tests may be conducted to check for specific antibodies and inflammation markers.

Treatment Options

Conservative Care

Initial treatment for elbow arthritis often involves conservative, non-surgical approaches to reduce pain and improve joint function. These methods can help manage symptoms and delay the progression of the condition. Conservative treatments often include:

  • Using over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation
  • Doing exercises and stretches designed to improve range of motion, strengthen the muscles around the elbow, and reduce stiffness
  • Adjusting activities to avoid repetitive stress on the elbow joint, using ergonomic tools, and incorporating rest periods during repetitive tasks
  • Applying ice packs to the elbow to reduce swelling and using heat therapy to relax muscles and alleviate pain
  • Wearing an elbow brace or support to provide stability and reduce strain on the joint Corticosteroid Injections administered by a healthcare provider to reduce severe inflammation and pain in the elbow joint

Surgical Treatment

If conservative treatments are insufficient, surgery may be necessary. Excel Health’s surgical approaches aim to relieve pain, improve joint function, and restore quality of life for patients with elbow arthritis. Surgical options include arthroscopy to remove loose fragments and smooth joint surfaces, synovectomy to remove the inflamed synovium, osteotomy to realign bones and reduce joint pressure, and joint replacement for severe cases. Your doctor will determine the best procedure for you based on your situation.

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