Although the elbows are not weight-bearing joints, they are most important for the functioning of the upper limbs. Hence, even minor trauma or disease affecting the elbow may cause pain and limit the movements of the upper limbs. Arthritis is one of the common disease conditions affecting the elbow joint.
It is an inflammatory condition that causes pain, swelling, stiffness, and interference with the use of the arm.
Arthritis can affect all ages, but is most commonly seen in people aged over 40 years. The most common cause is wear-and-tear. Apart from that, traumatic injuries, fractures and dislocations make you more susceptible to arthritis.
There are several types of arthritis, the most common being:
- Osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease is the most common type of arthritis that affects older people. It causes the cartilage, the tissue that cushions and protects the ends of bones in a joint, to wear off causing painful rubbing of bones.
- Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy joints, tissues and organs. It can cause pain, stiffness, swelling, deformity and loss of function in joints.
- Post-traumatic arthritis develops after an injury to the elbow. The condition may develop years after the trauma such as a fracture, severe sprain or ligament tears.
- Psoriatic arthritis occurs in some, because of psoriasis, a scaling skin disorder.
Arthritis in the elbow is diagnosed through a thorough physical exam and X-ray.
Treatment can include conservative options such as medications and steroid injections to relieve pain, activity modification, and use of splints. Surgery is usually considered if nonsurgical treatment fails to give relief. Total elbow replacement is a surgical procedure used to restore the function and relieve the pain in elbows affected by arthritis. In total elbow replacement surgery, the damaged regions of the elbow joint are replaced with artificial components.