Elbow Arthritis

Elbow Arthritis

What Is Elbow Arthritis? 

Elbow arthritis is what happens when the cartilage in the elbow becomes worn or damaged. Wear and tear can occur due to age and repetitive activity or following an injury such as a fracture or dislocation. Damage to cartilage in the elbow causes inflammation, which makes it painful to move around the joint. This can make sleeping very uncomfortable, especially if you are on your side.

If you have elbow arthritis, you may experience severe pain any time you bend your arm. It can be severely debilitating and limit routine tasks such as cooking, eating or typing. However, these activities can become possible with a procedure from the orthopedic specialists at the Princeton Orthopaedic Associates.

There are 3 types of elbow arthritis including:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common kind of elbow arthritis. It is an autoimmune disease, which means that the body’s immune system attacks and damages its own healthy tissues. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect any joint in the body, including fingers, wrists, hands, elbows, knees and ankles.
  • Post-traumatic arthritis: Arthritis caused by an injury to the elbow joint that causes inflammation. Treatment for it includes medication and physiotherapy.
  • Osteoarthritis: The least common type of elbow arthritis but it is more commonly caused as a result of overuse or an injury such as dislocation or fracture.

Causes of Elbow Arthritis

While the elbow is not considered a weight-bearing joint (such as a hip or a knee), there are still loads placed through this joint with daily activities. For example, whenever we push ourselves up from a chair, push a door open, lift or carry an object, we are placing stresses through the elbow. The joint may also be put through extra unexpected stress with the use of assistive devices (such as walkers and canes). However, while all stresses to the elbow are not necessarily bad, controlled stress (i.e., appropriate exercise) can be quite beneficial in helping to maintain motion, strength and bone density.

SIgns and Symptoms of Elbow Arthritis

The most common symptoms of elbow arthritis are:

  • Elbow pain during normal activities
  • Grinding, popping or cracking sensation in the elbow joint
  • Stiffness 
  • Swelling
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Tenderness, warmth and redness in the elbow joint

Diagnosing Elbow Arthritis

When you come to us for a diagnosis of elbow arthritis, our Princeton Orthopaedic Associates specialists will examine your symptoms, perform a physical examination and ask about the underlying causes. It’s important to know so that we can take early steps in treatment options or prescribe medication if necessary.

If further testing is needed, an orthopaedic specialist may order one or more of the following advanced imaging tests / tools:

  • X-ray
  • MRI
  • Musculoskeletal ultrasound
  • CT scan

Treating Elbow Arthritis

If you are diagnosed with elbow arthritis, Princeton Orthopaedic Associates will almost always try more conservative treatment options first that are designed to relieve pain in your elbow and improve functionality. Recommended treatments depend on your individual needs and goals for therapy. Many patients respond well to the proven therapies offered by our practice, which can effectively reduce discomfort in your elbow.

Nonsurgical treatment options for elbow arthritis includes:

  • Activity modification
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Icing or applying heat to the inflamed elbow
  • Pain or anti-inflammatory medication
  • Patient education about symptom management

If these methods do not offer enough relief for your elbow arthritis, you may qualify for elbow surgery. Your orthopaedic team will discuss what the best options are for treating your particular case of elbow arthritis.

Elbow Arthritis Surgery

Elbow arthritis is a common condition that can be treated with surgery in some cases. Your orthopaedic surgeon may assess whether total elbow replacement or arthroscopic procedures, among others, will allow you to achieve your desired outcome. These surgeries are designed not only to help you get back to doing the things you want but also provide for enhanced functionality. You and your orthopaedic surgeon will determine if surgery is the right option for you.

Depending on the severity of your unique case, your physician may recommend one or more of the following surgeries to treat elbow arthritis:

Advanced Arthroscopic Techniques to Treat Elbow Arthritis

Arthroscopic surgery is considered minimally invasive and can be used for pain relief of specific joint conditions. It entails making a small incision and inserting an arthroscope, which has a tiny camera that allows your doctor to see the bones, joints, ligaments and soft tissues in the elbow. Your doctor will be able to remove damaged tissue or repair any parts that have been harmed through this very small incision in your elbow. Recovery times are shorter with arthroscopic surgery because patients experience less pain and there are fewer wound complications in terms of infections.

Total Elbow Replacement

Our doctors have extensive experience with total elbow replacement utilizing artificial parts. It’s what they do best. In a total elbow replacement, the doctor replaces the component of your elbow, which includes the humerus and ulna, with artificial parts. Total elbow replacement surgery is usually regarded as a highly complicated procedure that may involve more than one specialist in order to ensure safe results. Total elbow replacements can either be performed using both elements being linked together or by separating them altogether – enabling for better mobility and greater flexibility after surgery.

Physical therapy is extremely beneficial because it helps people who have been injured to regain movement. Total elbow replacements allow for restored mobility and eliminates or greatly reduces pain for a better quality of life.

Elbow Arthritis Surgery Recovery

Your arm may be in a cast for several weeks after surgery. Your doctor will recommend that you ice and elevate your elbow after surgery to reduce pain and swelling. Pain management specialists work with your orthopaedic team to significantly reduce or eliminate your pain to get your elbow back to maximum function as soon as possible. Our pain management program offers the latest techniques which reduce the need for narcotics. 

Depending on what condition you have, and what type of surgery you had, your doctor might have you begin physical therapy to:

  • improve range of motion and function
  • Increase strength and flexibility
  • Prevent stiffness in the elbow joint 

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