Elbow Osteoarthritis: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

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  • Pains in Your Elbow

    Pains in Your Elbow

    You might not be making millions off your ability to throw a baseball, but elbow joints are still vital to your body. When they hurt, the pain can be very bothersome, and it may prevent you from doing many of the things you love.

    Baseball pitchers aren’t the only ones who should protect their elbows. Click through this slideshow to learn about elbow osteoarthritis, what causes it, and treatment options.

  • Symptoms of Elbow Osteoarthritis

    Symptoms of Elbow Osteoarthritis

    Everyone who suffers from osteoarthritis (OA) experiences a variety of symptoms, some that may be more intense or occur more frequently than others occur.

    The following symptoms are the most common:

    • stiffness
    • pain
    • difficulty moving the joint
    • bone spurs
    • bone grating or scraping
    • joint locking
    • joint instability
    • joint swelling (in severe cases)
  • Causes of Elbow Osteoarthritis

    Causes of Elbow Osteoarthritis

    Wear and tear in your joints damages and destroys the protective cartilage that covers the ends of the bones. Without cartilage protecting the bones, they begin to rub against each other. They may become deformed, swollen, and painful.

    Any joint in your body can develop OA, including your knees, toes, fingers, hips, and elbows. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) reports that the elbow is one of the joints less commonly affected by OA. That’s because the ligaments in the elbow are strong enough to stabilize the joint so that it can withstand blows and damage better than some other joints in the body can.


  • Who Is at Risk for OA?

    Who Is at Risk for OA?

    OA is the most common type of arthritis, and more than 27 million Americans are living with the condition, according to the American College of Rheumatology. Anyone can develop the condition, but some people are more likely to develop it because of their lifestyle, occupation, or habits. People who are more likely to develop elbow OA include:

    • middle-aged men who regularly perform strenuous manual activity
    • people with a history of injury or fracture to the elbow
    • older people
    • people whose family members have OA
  • How Is OA Diagnosed?

    How Is OA Diagnosed?

    During a physical examination, your doctor will inspect your elbows for obvious signs of damage or injury. They’ll ask you to perform range-of-motion tests to evaluate the mobility of the joint.

    Your doctor may request X-rays to check for a fracture or crack that might be causing your symptoms. An X-ray will detect any bone fragments that may have broken off as a result of OA. If no other cause is found, your doctor may diagnose your symptoms as elbow OA.


  • How Is It Treated?

    How Is It Treated?

    Doctors typically suggest non-surgical treatments first. These include:

    • activity restriction: Avoid activities that aggravate the joint. Rest between periods of exercise or activity.
    • pain management pills: Some over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, including acetaminophen and ibuprofen, can reduce the pain caused by OA.
    • prescription medications: If OTC pain medicines aren’t effective, your doctor may prescribe prescription drugs. Steroid injections also can help ease pain.
    • physical therapy: Gentle exercises and heat/cold therapy may be helpful in easing pain. Splints can reduce stress in the affected joint by gently supporting it.
  • What Surgical Treatments Are Used?

    What Surgical Treatments Are Used?

    If lifestyle treatments aren’t successful, your doctor may perform one of several surgical options in order to ease the symptoms of elbow OA. Surgical options include:

    • synovectomy: A surgeon removes damaged pieces of the synovium, a thin layer of tissue that surrounds each joint.
    • arthroscopy: A surgeon uses a small instrument to remove bone fragments, damaged cartilage, and bone spurs from the joint.
    • osteotomy: A surgeon removes sections of the bone to ease symptoms and reduce the bone on bone movement.
    • arthroplasty: The surgeon replaces the damaged joint with an artificial one.


  • Can It Be Prevented?

    Can It Be Prevented?

    You can try to prevent elbow OA by protecting your elbows and your joints. According to AAOS, most people diagnosed with elbow OA have a history of damage, such as a fracture, ligament injury, or dislocation in the joint. The more damage your joint endures, the greater your risk for problems like OA.

    In some cases, continuous use of the joint can cause elbow OA. Occupations or hobbies that require continuous use of your elbow can lead to an OA diagnosis later in life.


  • Life with Elbow OA

    Life with Elbow OA

    Your elbow is an important, complex joint that affects your whole arm. When it’s hurt, you suffer. Damage from elbow OA often can’t be reversed, but treatment and lifestyle modifications can help prevent painful symptoms and disease progression. The sooner you seek diagnosis and treatment, the sooner you can find relief and create a plan that can help you live without pain.