Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Elbow FAQ

Question:

Over the years I have come to depend on your service for advice for my family but now I need some help for myself. I had an X-ray to find out why my elbow was stiff and locking up on me. Looks like I have some osteoarthritis in that joint with some bone spurs and a thinner joint space. What is your best advice for me for treatment?

Answer:

Osteoarthritis is caused by degeneration of the articular (surface) cartilage of a joint. Degeneration is wear that happens over time. Doctors use the term degenerative arthritis to describe the wear and tear of a joint over many years. Degenerative arthritis is another term for osteoarthritis. Some doctors use the term degenerative arthrosis. (Arthrosis just means that the joint is wearing out.) Arthritis is technically a condition of joint inflammation. Often, joints with osteoarthritis aren't inflamed. The term arthritis should really only be used to describe true inflammatory conditions, such as gout, infection, and rheumatoid arthritis. In almost all cases, doctors try nonsurgical treatments first. Surgery is usually not considered until it has become impossible to control your symptoms. The goal of nonsurgical treatment is to help you manage your pain and use your elbow without causing more harm. Your doctor may recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen, to help control swelling and pain. Other treatments, such as heat, may also be used to control your pain. Rehabilitation services, such as physical and occupational therapy, have a critical role in the treatment plan for elbow osteoarthritis. The main goal of therapy is to help you learn how to control symptoms and maximize the health of your elbow. You'll learn ways to calm your pain and symptoms. You may use rest, heat, or topical rubs. You may be issued a special elbow splint to immobilize and protect the elbow. Resting the joint can help ease pain and inflammation. Range-of-motion and stretching exercises can improve your elbow flexibility. Strengthening exercises for the arm help steady the elbow and protect the joint from shock and stress. Your therapist will give you tips on how to get your tasks done with less strain on the joint. If conservative (nonoperative) care fails, it may be necessary to consider some type of surgical treatment. There are several operations to treat advanced osteoarthritis of the elbow. Your surgeon will consider many factors when deciding which procedure is best for you, including the severity of joint degeneration, your age, your activity level, and how you use your elbow. Arthur T. Lee, MD, and Aaron Daluiski, MD. Osteoarthritis of the Elbow. In The Journal of Hand Surgery. January 2012. Vol. 37A. No. 1. Pp. 148-151.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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