Osteoarthritis of the elbow occurs when the cartilage surface of the elbow is damaged or becomes worn. This can follow an old injury or degeneration over time with age. Previous injury to the elbow ligaments resulting in an unstable elbow can also lead to osteoarthritis. Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent accidental injury to the elbow. However, when injury does occur, it is important to recognize it right away and receive evaluation and treatment to limit the extent of future arthritis.
In addition to a thorough physical examination, doctors use X-rays to assess for arthritic changes in the elbow, such as loss of cartilage space and bone spurs.
The common symptoms of elbow arthritis are pain and loss of motion, but can also include "grating" and "locking" because of the rubbing of rough surfaces as the cartilage becomes degenerative.
Treatment depends on the severity of the disease, patient goals, and the results of X-rays. Nonsurgical treatment options include anti-inflammatory medications to reduce or alleviate pain, physical therapy, and modifying activities to avoid painful motions. It is also important to maintain muscular strength around the elbow. In addition, steroid injections are sometimes used to temporarily relieve symptoms. Surgery may ultimately be needed. Depending on the severity of the arthritis, the spectrum of surgical options includes minimally invasive arthroscopic treatment, all the way up to elbow joint replacement.