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Elbow arthritis

Private treatment for pain, swelling, and stiffness in your elbow joint

Examination in clinic to assess for elbow arthritis
Arthritis is a condition that causes pain, stiffness, and swelling in your joints.

There are several different types of arthritis including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and juvenile arthritis.

The most common type of arthritis in the elbow is rheumatoid arthritis, though you can also get other types of arthritis like osteoarthritis in your elbow.

The elbow is a much-used joint, and pain or stiffness in your elbow can greatly impact your ability to carry out day-to-day tasks like washing, dressing, and eating.

Call us on 0141 300 5009 or book online today to arrange a consultation to discuss private elbow arthritis treatment with a consultant of your choice at Circle Health Group.

This page explains what elbow arthritis is, looks at the causes and symptoms of elbow arthritis, and how it is treated.

Common symptoms of elbow arthritis include:

  • Pain, especially when you move or rotate your arm
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Difficulty moving your elbow
  • Grating or scraping of the elbow joint
  • Locking of your elbow joint
  • Instability of your elbow joint
  • Tingling in your elbow
  • Numbness in your fingers

The causes of elbow arthritis vary depending on the type of arthritis you have. Some types of arthritis that may affect the elbow include:

Osteoarthritis

This is a condition where the cartilage in the joints wears down causing the bones to rub against each other.

It is commonly caused by wear and tear of the joints as we age but may be due to an old injury such as a dislocation or fracture. It is most common in people over fifty.

Osteoarthritis commonly affects weight-bearing joints like the hips and knees but may also affect the elbow. Elbow osteoarthritis is more likely if you have had a previous injury or surgery to your elbow, or if you use your elbow a lot due to your job or hobby.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

An autoimmune disorder where your body mistakenly attacks its own cells and tissues.

In the case of RA, the immune system attacks the lining of the joints causing pain, swelling, and inflammation. It normally affects both elbows and is the most common cause of elbow arthritis.

Juvenile arthritis

This is an umbrella term for a group of conditions that affect people under the age of sixteen. It commonly causes joint pain, swelling, and tenderness in your hands, knees, ankles, elbows, or wrists. Juvenile arthritis may also affect other organs like your skin, eyes, and internal organs. The cause of juvenile arthritis is not known.

Psoriatic arthritis

Psoriasis is a skin disorder that causes dry, scaly patches on the skin. In some cases, the condition also affects your joints causing them to become swollen, stiff, and painful.

Psoriatic arthritis most commonly affects the knees, ankles, hands, and feet, but can occur in any joint.

At your first consultation, your consultant will ask you what symptoms you have, and how long you have been having them. They will examine your arm and elbow for signs of swelling, redness, and tenderness and check your range of movement (how well you can move your arm and elbow).

Your consultant may order scans such as an X-ray, or MRI scan to examine the bones and soft tissue of your elbow.

How is a diagnosis made?

A diagnosis of elbow arthritis is made using a combination of your symptoms, physical examination, and scans.

Why is this first consultation so important?

Your first consultation is important because it's where your surgeon will assess your symptoms, provide a diagnosis, and recommend a suitable treatment.

At Circle Health Group, it's important for us to spend this one-on-one time with you, to get to know you and your expectations for treatment.

Once a diagnosis is made, your consultant will recommend the best treatment options based on your diagnosis, general health, lifestyle, and preferences.

We want you to be as well-informed and comfortable as possible during your time with us, so please feel free to ask any questions, or discuss any concerns you may have with your consultant at this time. It's a good idea to write down any questions you have before your consultation.

Treatment for elbow arthritis is divided into two types; non-surgical treatment and surgical treatment.

Non-surgical treatment is usually tried first, and if there is no improvement, or your elbow arthritis is severe, your consultant may recommend surgical treatment.

Non-surgical treatments for elbow arthritis include:

  • Resting your elbow by avoiding activities where you use your elbow a lot such as gardening, lifting, or some sports
  • Applying heat or ice packs to relieve pain and swelling
  • Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen. If you are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, your consultant may prescribe a separate medication to treat this condition
  • Supporting the elbow in a brace or splint
  • Cortisone injections to relieve pain and inflammation
  • Physiotherapy to reduce pain and swelling and increase mobility using exercises and treatments such as heat and cold therapy

Surgical treatments for elbow arthritis include:

  • Arthroscopy - in this procedure, a tiny camera and surgical instruments are inserted through small incisions (cuts) in the skin to examine the elbow joint and perform any necessary repairs such as removal of bone fragments, cartilage, or damaged tissue. An arthroscopy can be performed for both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Synovectomy - in this procedure, the surgeon removes all or part of the diseased synovium (the tissue that lines and lubricates the joints). They may also remove a segment of bone to allow greater movement of the joint. This type of surgery is usually used to treat rheumatoid arthritis
  • Osteotomy - this is where part of the bone is removed to release pressure on the joint. It is commonly used to treat osteoarthritis
  • Arthroplasty - also known as joint replacement surgery, is where the damaged joint is replaced with an artificial (prosthetic) joint
    If surgery is an option, your consultant will decide which type of surgery is best for you based on your diagnosis, age, general health, lifestyle, and expectations for treatment

They will tell you what to expect from your surgery, discuss possible risks and complications and give you an estimated timeline for recovery.

Please ask your consultant any questions and discuss any concerns you may have about treatment for elbow arthritis. This will put your mind at rest and enable you to make an informed decision.

Though damage from elbow arthritis can't usually be reversed, treatment and lifestyle changes can often improve your symptoms and stop the condition from getting worse.

If you have symptoms of elbow arthritis, make an appointment with a specialist as soon as possible to ensure you get an accurate diagnosis and start the correct treatment.

We answer some of your most commonly asked questions about elbow arthritis:

Can you get arthritis in your elbow?

Yes. There are several types of arthritis that can affect your elbow. The most common type of arthritis in the elbow is rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Osteoarthritis commonly affects joints like the hips and knees but may also affect the elbow.

Is golfer's elbow arthritis?

No. Golfer's elbow is a separate condition that affects the tendons. The medical name for golfer's elbow is medial epicondylitis and it occurs when there is inflammation of the tendons (the tissues that connect muscles to bones) on the inside of the elbow joint.

Is tennis elbow arthritis?

No. Tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis is similar to golfer's elbow in that it occurs when there is inflammation of the tendons, but it affects the tendons on the outside of the elbow joint.

What does arthritis in your elbow feel like?

What elbow arthritis feels like depends on which kind of arthritis you have, and how severe your arthritis is. Common symptoms include pain, especially when moving your elbow which may be accompanied by a grinding, clicking, or snapping sound. Your elbow may be swollen and the skin over the joint may be red and feel hot to the touch.

Can you get rheumatoid arthritis in your elbow?

Yes. Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common type of elbow arthritis.

How do you relieve arthritis pain in your elbow?

To relieve pain in your elbow, you can try some at-home treatments such as resting your elbow, taking over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen, applying ice packs, and using an elbow splint to support your elbow joint.

If your symptoms do not improve after a few weeks, make an appointment with a specialist to get an accurate diagnosis and discuss further treatment.

At Circle Health Group we have the experience and expertise to ensure the best possible care and outcome for our patients. As a patient with Circle Health Group you can expect the highest standards of care including:

  • Flexible appointment times and locations that are convenient for you
  • The freedom to choose which hospital and consultant best suit your needs
  • Personalised, consultant-led treatment plans tailored to your individual needs
  • Comfortable and safe private facilities maintained by expert multidisciplinary teams
  • Private ensuite rooms as standard
  • A range of delicious healthy meals
  • Affordable, fixed-price packages with aftercare included
  • Flexible payment options to help you spread the cost of your care

If you would like to see a consultant or learn more about elbow arthritis treatment, book your appointment today or call a member of our team directly on 0141 300 5009.

Content reviewed by Circle in-house team in December 2022. Next review due December 2025.

  1. Osteoarthritis of the Elbow, OrthoInfo
  2. When Elbow Pain May Mean Arthritis, Arthritis Foundation
  3. Elbow Osteoarthritis, Healthline
  4. Elbow arthritis: current concepts, PubMed

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