Elbow arthritis is the progressive degeneration of cartilage tissue on the ends of the bones in the elbow joint. Osteoarthritis is the primary cause of elbow arthritis and results from wearing down the smooth articular cartilage covering the ends of the upper arm and forearm bones. Loss of cartilage results in pain, stiffness, decreased function, swelling, joint deformity and eventual immobility. Osteoarthritis can eventually progress to bone-on-bone contact, which results in further increasing pain and stiffness in the elbow joint. This bone-on-bone contact induces the formation of bone spurs (osteophytes) that will also contribute to the pain and reduce mobility.
Arthritis can also develop after prior trauma to the elbow, which is known as post-traumatic arthritis. Inflammatory arthritis is another form of elbow arthritis that can lead to degeneration of the joint. Inflammatory arthritis is a systemic disease and comes in many forms, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and psoriatic arthritis, among many others.
Early stages of arthritis can be treated with rest, activity modification, anti-inflammatory medications, bracing and corticosteroid injections. When these non-surgical treatments fail to alleviate symptoms, surgical treatment may be indicated.