Elbow arthritis is a common and often progressive condition in which the cartilage that normally lines the surface of the elbow joint is compromised and eventually worn completely away as a result of injury, overuse, or through inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis. While this progressive destruction of the elbow joint may be associated with pain, it also commonly leads to significant stiffness about the elbow. The elbow’s normal range of motion is severely limited making it difficult for individuals to use their arm to carry out normal daily functions.
The surgeon skilled in treating the spectrum of degenerative conditions affecting the elbow will first spend time with a patient discussing the history of their symptoms, and how their elbow limits them in performing the activities that are important to them. This is followed by a careful clinical examination of the entire extremity from the neck to the fingertips. The goal is not only to determine the extent of destruction and dysfunction of the elbow, but to also determine whether other complicating conditions are present that would impact treatment for the elbow.
Fig 1: Osteoarthritis of the elbow
There are multiple types of arthritis. One major, although rarely found in the elbow, is osteoarthritis. Below you will find more information on this common form.
The elbow is a hinge type of joint. Osteoarthritis of the elbow is relatively rare. It is characterized by wear of the cartilage surface, progressive formation of osteopytes (bony expansion on the edge of the joint surface) and osteocartilagineous loose bodies inside the joint. The narrowing of the joint space is less frequent in the elbow probably because this is a non weight bearing joint and this has a good prognostic value in comparison with other areas of our body.
Arthritis of the elbow is more common in middle aged men involved in strenuous manual activity and is particularly frequent in laborours using pneumatic tools. It may also occur following previous elbow injury or fracture, or damage to the elbow from another types of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout.
Osteoarthritis usually develop in the elbow gradually (over years).It may remain completely asymptomatic or present with
- Swelling of the affected joint
- When the elbow is moved a grating sound or a clicking sensation may be appreciated.
The symptoms may only be present in certain positions of the elbow, or occur through out the arc of elbow movement.
Plain X-Rays are the cornerstone in diagnosis and provide us information about the degree of joint wear. Laboratory tests, Ct Scan or MRI are indicated very occasionally in case of any doubt and may provide useful information about the extension of the ostheoarthitic process.