About the condition
Elbow arthritis is characterized by inflammation of the elbow, which develops when the cartilage breaks down. This can cause stiffness and pain in the elbow due to a lack of cushioning, which the cartilage normally provides. It is generally caused by good old fashioned wear and tear caused by age. In general, people are most likely to be diagnosed with elbow arthritis between the ages of 60-65, when the joints cartilage becomes thinner and less lubricated.
People who have physical occupations, such as sportsmen, factory workers, farmers and builders are quite obviously at risk of wearing out their joints. However, the same wear and tear can occur through repetitive strain injuries that affect painters and office workers. Some people just have a weaker elbow cartilage due to a genetic predisposition.
Other diseases that can cause similar symptoms include rheumatoid arthritis and juvenile arthritis. It is important to rule out these conditions when a person feels continuous pain in the joints. It is not normal to have arthritis in teenage years or in early adulthood, which is why young people experiencing the symptoms listed below need to undergo an extensive check-up.
- Elbow pain
- Restricted mobility of elbow
- Instability of elbow joint
- Grating sound when moving elbow
- Elbow feels warm or hot to touch
- During a general examination, the doctor will examine the patient's elbow for signs of swelling and stiffness.
- The doctor will ask if the patient has ever experienced any trauma or injury in the elbow area.
- The doctor will ask about the patient's family history, to find out if arthritis runs in their family.
- An X-ray is taken so that doctors can examine the elbow joint and find out if the cartilage has worn away.
- An X-ray can also discover a microtrauma or tear in the elbow joint that could be causing pain and stiffness that is similar to arthritis.
- A blood test can rule out other causes of elbow pain, such as general inflammation and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Conservative treatment aims to ease the pain in the elbow area and reduce inflammation. A patient may be prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs and in severe cases steroids to ease the pain and stiffness.
- Physical therapy may be helpful to regain mobility in the arm.
- Resting the elbow, perhaps with the support of a sling, is vital to prevent further breakdown of the cartilage.
- Elbow arthroscopy is a procedure that repositions the ends of the bones in such a way that they no longer rub against each other and cause pain.
- Total elbow replacement is a surgical procedure suitable for severe cases, when it is no longer possible to restore the normal functioning of the elbow. In such cases, the painful joint is replaced with a prosthetic, reinstating mobility in the elbow.