What is arthritis of the elbow?
Any joint in the body is susceptible to arthritis, even the elbow. Meaning “inflamed joint” arthritis of the elbow occurs when the cartilage surface is worn or damaged and causes pain. For many people, arthritis of the elbow can cause pain not only when they bend their elbow, but also when they straighten it. Elbow specialist, James Mazzara, MD helps patients in Manchester, South Windsor, Rocky Hill, Glastonbury and surrounding Hartford communities who suffer with this painful condition.
Arthritis is a general term, referring to joint inflammation. There are different forms of arthritis that can cause problems such as pain, stiffness and swelling in the elbows. These include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) – the most common cause of arthritis is of the elbow, is a disease of the joint linings, or synovia. As the lining swells, the joint space narrows. Rheumatoid arthritis gradually destroys the bones and soft tissues. RA can affect the elbows, as well other joints such as the hands, wrists and shoulders.
- Osteoarthritis (OA) – the most common form of arthritis. In the elbow it is a chronic condition characterized by the breakdown of cartilage that cushions the end of the bone where the joint forms. This breakdown leads to “bone-on-bone” movement, which causes pain, stiffness and loss of joint movement.
What causes arthritis of the elbow?
Some patients who are diagnosed with arthritis of the elbow have a history of injury such as a dislocation or fracture. The risk of arthritis or osteoarthritis can increase if a patient needs surgery to repair or reconstruct the elbow joint. Injury to the ligaments that result in an unstable elbow can also lead to arthritis of the elbow because the normal forces across the elbow are altered, causing the joint to wear unevenly or quickly.
Outside activities, work or sports can lead to arthritis of the elbow if the patient places more demands on the joint than it can bear. For example, professional baseball pitchers place unusually high demands on their throwing elbows, which can lead to failure of the stabilizing ligaments. Surgical reconstruction may be needed if this occurs.
The best way to prevent arthritis of the elbow is to avoid injury to the joint. When injury does occur, it is important to recognize it right away and get treatment from Dr. Mazzara.
What are the symptoms of elbow arthritis?
- Pain – Pain may be primarily on the outer side of the joint in the early stages of rheumatoid arthritis while the pain of osteoarthritis may get worse as the arm is extended. Pain during the night, or when at rest indicates a more advanced state of osteoarthritis.
- Instability – The joint gives way, or doesn’t hold things without pain. Instability can make it difficult to do normal, daily activities.
- Swelling – More common with rheumatoid arthritis.
- Decreased range of motion – Inability to completely bend or straighten the elbow.
- Locking – The feeling of the elbow joint catching or locking. This is more common with osteoarthritis.
- Pain in both elbows – pain in more than one joint such as the wrists, elbows and shoulders can be a sign of rheumatoid arthritis.
- Stiffness – This occurs particularly with arthritis that develops after an injury.
Are you experiencing elbow arthritis symptoms?
There are two ways to initiate a consultation with Dr. Mazzara:
You can provide current X-rays and/or MRIs for a clinical case review with Dr. Mazzara.
You can schedule an office consultation with Dr. Mazzara.
How is arthritis of the elbow diagnosed?
Dr. Mazzara will conduct an initial history review and physical examination to determine the areas of pain and tenderness as well as motion of the joint. X-rays may be needed to confirm the diagnosis.
How is arthritis of the elbow treated?
Treatment options depend on the patient’s health, age, stage of the disease and expected outcome. Patients in Manchester, South Windsor, Rocky Hill, Glastonbury and surrounding Hartford communities will find several treatment options at the orthopedic office of Dr. James Mazzara.
How to treat elbow arthritis without surgery?
Arthritis of the elbow is primarily treated non-surgically. This includes oral medications to reduce or alleviate pain, physical therapy and activity modification. Dr. Mazzara may also use a corticosteroid injection to alleviate pain.
How to treat elbow arthritis surgically?
If non-surgical treatments fail to alleviate pain or control the symptoms of elbow arthritis, surgery may be recommended. Surgical options vary, based on the specific type of arthritis, stage of the disease, activity requirements and the patient’s age. Surgical options may include:
- Arthroscopic Treatment – Dr. Mazzara can remove bone spurs, loose fragments or a portion of the diseased synovium (soft tissue lining the inner surface of the joint.) This can be used to treat either rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis.
- Synovectomy – The diseased synovium is removed. Sometimes, a portion of bone is also removed to provide a greater range of motion. This procedure is often used in the early stages of rheumatoid arthritis.
- Osteotomy – Part of the bone is removed to relive the pressure on the joint. This is often used to treat osteoarthritis.
For additional resources on arthritis of the elbow, or to learn more about treatment options for elbow pain in Manchester, South Windsor, Rocky Hill, Glastonbury and surrounding Hartford communities, please contact the office of elbow specialist, James Mazzara, MD.