Every arthritic elbow is different. The goal of any surgical intervention for elbow arthritis is to restore function by improving motion and minimizing pain. Treatment options need to be carefully tailored to the individual patient and are based on age, level of activity, level of general health, and the extent of joint destruction.
In cases with mild to moderate inconstant pain, or moderate stiffness sometimes associated with locking sensation, treatment includes simple pain killers, modification of the activity avoiding heavy lifting and repetitive strenuous exercises with upper limbs. A physical therapy program aimed to stretch the capsule and decrease the deformity due to muscular contracture is indicated.
In a moderate arthritis with loss of the range of motion, or constant moderate pain with flare up phases and repeated locking of the joint, keyhole surgery with a surgical washout of the debris from the joint is often the treatment of choice. Results are very rewarding and often give medium to long term pain relief. Occasionally, open exploration of the joint is indicated.
In severe elbow arthritis with loss of joint space, constant and severe pain, severe loss of range of motion and often associated peripheral nerve involvement, the treatment of choice is joint replacement (total elbow replacement) or resurfacing surgery.