Osteoarthritis of the Elbow


Osteoarthritis of the elbow usually is a result of normal wearing away of joint cartilage from years of activity as we age. Previous injury from elbow dislocation or fracture may also cause osteoarthritis, which usually affects weight-bearing joints like your hip and knee. The elbow is one of the least affected joints because of its surrounding stabilizing ligaments and well-matched joint surfaces.

Although osteoarthritis usually occurs in people age 50 and older, it is apparent in younger patients as well. For example, professional baseball pitchers or throwing athetes place an unusually high demand on their throwing elbows, which leads to cartilage breakdown. The elbow joint becomes stiff and painful because the cartilage that cushions the elbow wears away, leaving the bones to rub against one another.

The best way to avoid osteoarthritis of the elbow is to avoid injury to the joint. Maintaining muscular strength around the elbow, using proper technique and conditioning can help prevent elbow arthritis as well.

Elbow diagram and anatomy

Forearm and Elbow

Osteoarthritis of the elbow usually is a result of normal wearing away of joint cartilage from years of activity as we age.


Common symptoms of elbow arthritis include:

  • Pain
  • Loss of range of motion
  • Grating or locking sensation
  • Joint swelling
  • Numbness in the ring finger and pinky finger.
  • Tingling sensation
  • Stiffening


Dr. Stowell will order and analyze X-rays of your elbow to determine the stage of the disease. He will inquire about your prior history of injury to your elbow and overall medication condition. Early stages of osteoarthritis of the elbow can be treated non-surgically with oral medications and/or corticosteroid injections to relieve pain, activity modification, and physical therapy.

Surgical treatment may be recommended by Dr. Stowell if nonsurgical methods have been exhausted. When arthritis can be seen on an X-ray, there is usually significant wear and tear to the joint surfaces. Dr. Stowell may suggest arthroscopy, a minimally invasive surgical treatment that involves removing any loose bone/cartilage fragments or degenerative tissue in the joint to smooth irregular surfaces that can help improve motion and decrease pain. It is usually an outpatient procedure and does not require large incisions, making recovery reasonably quick.

Elbow joint replacement is available if the joint surface has worn away completely. Pain and function in an elbow joint replacement can be dramatic; however, long-term function limits exist with restrictions for lifting anything greater than 10 pounds.

As orthopedic research advances, Dr. Stowell is also on the cutting edge of knowledge for cartilage/bone graft procedures to specific areas of the elbow joint. These advancements help prevent further deterioration of the joint and improve regeneration.

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