Elbow arthritis occurs when the cartilage surface wears away between the ulna and radius bones of the forearm and the humerus bone of the upper arm. Common symptoms include painful elbow motion, difficulty bending or straightening the elbow fully and occasionally a catching or grinding sensation in the elbow. Elbow arthritis may be caused by prior injuries to the elbow, rheumatological conditions or simply wear and tear over time.
Treatment usually starts with oral or topical anti-inflammatory medicine and simple stretching exercises. Cortisone injections into the elbow joint may be used to reducing pain and inflammation. If patients are still having difficulty with symptoms of elbow arthritis after these measures, surgical options may be considered.
Elbow arthroscopy can be very helpful to help restore an improved arc of motion in an elbow stiff from arthritis. In this procedure, called arthroscopic debridement, a high-definition camera is placed into the elbow joint through a small incision. Additional small incisions are used to introduce a suction tool to remove any loose cartilage or bone debris. Bone spurs are smoothed with a burr. Following this a release of the contracted elbow capsule may be performed to allow a greater arc of smooth elbow motion. This is done as a "same day" surgery and the patient may begin elbow exercises the day after the procedure.
In more severe cases elbow replacement may be considered. Elbow replacements are much less common than shoulder, hip and knee replacements, but they are very effective at relieving arthritic pain and restoring motion to the elbow. The x-ray below shows a typical elbow replacement. Elbow replacements typically require permanent lifting restrictions to prevent premature loosening of the implant. This aspect must be carefully considered before undergoing elbow replacement.
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