What is Elbow Osteoarthritis?
Your elbow is a hinge joint made up of three bones: the lower end of your upper arm bone (humerus), and upper ends of your forearm bones (the radius and ulna).
Cartilage, a smooth, rubbery coating that acts as your body’s shock absorbers, covers all three bones, and allows your elbow movements to be smooth and painless.
Elbow osteoarthritis (OA) occurs when the cartilage surrounding the bones of your elbow joint wears away and eventually exposes the bone.
As the disease progresses, bone can grind on bone, and painful bone spurs called osteophytes can form in the place of cartilage.
What Causes Elbow Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is more common in weight-bearing joints, though it can affect the elbow.
There is no one cause of elbow OA, but you are more likely to develop it if you have one of the following risk factors:
- Previous elbow injuries, such as a fractured elbow
- Long-term, repetitive strain on your elbow, whether occupational or recreational
- Increasing age, especially over 65
- Gender – women are more likely to get osteoarthritis
- Family history of osteoarthritis
While elbow OA will likely affect the elbow of your dominant arm due to overuse or injury, rheumatoid arthritis is the most common form of arthritis in the elbow, and will likely affect both elbows. Gout, another form of arthritis, can also be experienced in the elbow.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Elbow Osteoarthritis?
The most common symptom of elbow OA is pain in the elbow joint. Most often, the pain develops slowly over time, but it can appear suddenly.
Other signs and symptoms of elbow OA include:
- Pain, swelling, or tenderness of the elbow joint, making it difficult to bend and straighten the elbow
- Stiffness, and/or a locking or sticking feeling in the elbow, especially first thing in the morning or after periods of inactivity
- A crunching, clicking, or snapping sound (known as crepitus) when moving the elbow
- Decreased range of motion and pain while doing routine activities such as brushing your teeth or reaching for something
- In more advanced cases, numbness or tingling in the ring finger and small finger, caused by swelling on the ulnar nerve (your “funny bone” nerve)
Are you concerned about signs & symptoms of elbow osteoarthritis? Book an assessment with a physiotherapist today.
How is Elbow Osteoarthritis Treated?
Treatments for elbow osteoarthritis typically include medications, physiotherapy, and surgery, though surgery should be considered only as a last resort, and many drugs carry serious side effects.
Treatments for elbow osteoarthritis include:
- Medications, including:
- Over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen
- Topical medications such as creams, sprays, gels or patches
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), though these drugs can have serious side effects
- Corticosteroid injections, though these cannot be continued for a long period of time
- Surgery – if surgery is necessary after other less invasive treatments have not helped, physiotherapy is an important part of rehabilitation
Physiotherapy for Elbow Osteoarthritis
Physiotherapy is a drug-free and non-surgical treatment that has been proven to reduce osteoarthritis pain.
The goal of physiotherapy for elbow osteoarthritis is to prevent the progression of the disease, reduce pain, regain strength, and increase joint mobility, function, and quality of life.
Depending on your individual needs, physiotherapy for elbow osteoarthritis can include:
- Stretching, strengthening, and range of motion exercises
- Activity modification and functional retraining
- Bracing, sleeves, or compression bandages
- Patient education so you feel in control of your condition including relaxation and coping strategies
- Cross-disciplinary pain-relieving therapies such as:
Are you seeking physiotherapy for elbow osteoarthritis? Find a clinic near you and book an assessment today.
Can Elbow Osteoarthritis Go Away On Its Own?
Unfortunately, no. There is no cure for elbow OA, but with proper treatment, the disease can be managed effectively and progression stopped or delayed.
If you have elbow osteoarthritis, there are things you can do to make daily living easier, including:
- Minimizing activities that put stress on your elbow joint, like hammering or shoveling
- Wearing an elbow brace or sleeve to take the strain off your elbow joint
- Applying heat and cold therapy
Can You Prevent Elbow Osteoarthritis?
There are many things you can do to prevent or reduce the chance of developing elbow osteoarthritis, including:
- Exercising regularly, including stretching exercises such as yoga or tai chi (at least 30 minutes every day)
- Eating a non-inflammatory diet (avoiding processed and refined foods and sugar)
- Maintaining a healthy weight
Book a Physiotherapist Consult for Elbow Osteoarthritis Today
Concerned about symptoms of elbow osteoarthritis? Book an assessment with a physiotherapist today.