Osteoarthritis of the Elbow

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What is Osteoarthritis of the Elbow?

Osteoarthritis is a condition that impacts your bones and joints, wearing away the protective cartilage and causing your bones to rub together. While osteoarthritis typically impacts weight-bearing joints like the knee and the hip, it can also affect other joints, such as the elbow.

Patients who suffer from elbow osteoarthritis lose the cartilage between the elbow’s three bones: the humerus, ulna, and radius. Since there is little to no cushioning between the bones, it becomes difficult and painful, if not impossible, to move the elbow and arm as normal.

Whom Does Elbow Osteoarthritis Affect?

Osteoarthritis of the elbow can impact nearly anyone, but the condition is most common in those who have previous experienced an elbow injury or dislocation. If the previous injury required surgery or was not restored to its preinjury condition, osteoarthritis can result.

Even those who have never had an elbow injury can develop osteoarthritis. Professionals who perform repetitive elbow movement for their jobs, such as athletes or construction workers, may experience cartilage breakdown over several years.

Osteoarthritis in general tends to impact older patients more often than their younger counterparts. More specifically, osteoarthritis tends to arise in patients over the age of 45. Additionally, those who have a family history of osteoarthritis are more likely to develop the condition than those with no family history.

What are the Symptoms of Osteoarthritis of the Elbow?

As with any type of osteoarthritis, the most common elbow osteoarthritis symptoms are pain in the afflicted area and a decrease or loss in the range of motion. While both symptoms are commonplace, they may not occur at the same time.

Many patients report a locking or grating sensation in their elbow. A locking feeling can result if loose pieces of bone or cartilage become lodged between the moving elements of the joint, restricting motion. A grating sensation may result from damage to the cartilage and the subsequent loss of the joint’s normal smooth surface.

Some patients also experience joint swelling, particularly as the disease progresses. Later stages of elbow osteoarthritis may also bring numbness to the ring and pinky fingers, as the nerves leading to these fingers can be impacted. Finally, some patients with osteoarthritis of the elbow may develop bone spurs.

How is Elbow Osteoarthritis Treated?

Sadly, there is no current cure for osteoarthritis. However, there are several elbow osteoarthritis treatment options you may undergo depending on the severity of your condition and other pertinent factors.

Most patients, especially those in the early stages of osteoarthritis, can benefit from nonsurgical treatment methods. Physicians will often prescribe oral medications to reduce or eliminate pain in the elbow. Physical therapy regimens can also be helpful in relieving pain and restoring a proper range of motion in the joint.

Your doctor will likely also recommend lifestyle changes to ensure you can perform daily activities without pain. You may need to take more frequent breaks in your physical activities or exercises, and you may be instructed to stop lifting heavy weights.

Osteoarthritis of the Elbow Surgical Treatment Options

In some cases, patients may not see results from nonsurgical treatment methods. In these circumstances, surgery may be a necessary next step.

One of the most common surgeries for elbow osteoarthritis is arthroscopy, which is a minimally invasive procedure done on an outpatient basis. A surgeon makes small incisions to access the elbow joint and remove any fragments of bone or cartilage, as well as any bone spurs that may be present. During this procedure, irregular surfaces can be smoothed out as well. Arthroscopy typically comes with a brief recovery period and can decrease pain and increase the range of motion.

In some severe cases of elbow osteoarthritis, the joint surface may be completely worn away. If this is the case, an elbow joint replacement will likely be the best option. Your doctor will work with you to determine whether a joint replacement is the best course of action for your specific case and, if so, what type of joint replacement you should receive.

To learn more about Elbow Osteoarthritis treatment options in the Fort Myers, Estero and Naples area, contact Orthopedic Center of Florida.

Meet our Hand, Wrist & Elbow Doctors:

Spencer P. Skinner, MD

Spencer P. Skinner, MD

Board-Certified, Fellowship-Trained Orthopedic Surgeon Specializing in Hand, Upper Extremity, and Peripheral Nerve SurgeryOrthopedic Services and Sports Medicine SpecialtiesShoulderDislocations &...

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