What is arthritis?

In general, arthritis describes joint destruction as a result of chronic inflammation. Arthritis can be broken down into three broad types:

Osteoarthritis (OA): By far, osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis.  It is usually referred to as “wear and tear arthritis.” However, osteoarthritis occurs regardless of activity level; it doesn’t matter if you were a pipe fitter or an expert quilter, osteoarthritis is an age-related phenomenon. The smooth layer of cartilage breaks down and does not heal. Some people can get osteoarthritis at a very young age (20-30) whiles others may live into their 90s with no arthritis.

Inflammatory arthritis:  Much less common than OA, inflammatory arthritis is an autoimmune attack on the cells that line the joints and tendons (synovial cells). Inflammatory arthritis includes Rheumatoid Arthritis, Psoriatic Arthritis, Lupus, among others.  While gout is included in inflammatory arthritis, but it is joint destruction from the deposition of uric acid crystals, not synovial cell breakdown.

Post-Traumatic arthritis:  This should be called “wear and tear arthritis.” Any joint that is injured can have cartilage damage. Persistent joint irregularities and joints that remain unstable or loose can lose their cartilage.

What are symptoms of arthritis of the elbow?

The first symptom is typically a loss of motion, especially in extension. Patients report that they can’t “get their elbow out.” Pain at the end of flexion can also occur. Swelling, instability, and mechanical symptoms can also occur as the condition progresses. Numbness in the pinky and weakness in the hand can occur from compression of the ulnar nerve at the elbow.

Are there any non-operative treatments for elbow arthritis?

Comprehensive arthritis care, NSAIDS, glucosamine, and elbow sleeves can all help the pain. Steroid injections can also help with the pain. However, none of these interventions will halt the progression of arthritis.

What are the surgical treatments for arthritis of the elbow?

Treatment is aimed at increasing motion and decreasing symptoms. Surgical therapies include arthroscopic or open capsule release and removal of loose bodies and heterotopic bone. If this does not help, the ultimate surgical treatment for elbow arthritis is a total elbow replacement.

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