Elbow Arthritis Treatment and Symptoms

Elbow arthritis is relatively uncommon compared to arthritis of other joints in the body such as the hands, hips, and knees. That said, some people suffer from symptoms of painful arthritis symptoms and require treatment for this condition. Problems with the elbow joint can cause significant pain and disability. However, there are effective treatments for arthritis of the elbow joint.

Man holding elbow in pain
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Types of Elbow Arthritis

The first step in the treatment of elbow arthritis is to determine the cause of symptoms. Unlike some joints where osteoarthritis is by far the most common type of arthritis, elbow joints are commonly affected by some other conditions. The most common types of arthritis found in the elbow joint include:

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis affects the elbow commonly. This can be painful, and often affects both elbows causing functional limitations for the patient. Patients with rheumatoid arthritis commonly have pain, swelling, and instability of the elbow joint.


Osteoarthritis of the elbow is relatively uncommon and mostly occurs in men with a history of significant heavy labor activity or sports participation. The most common complaint of these patients is restricted mobility, particularly with challenges fully straightening the elbow.

Post-Traumatic Arthritis

Post-traumatic arthritis of the elbow typically occurs after elbow fractures and/or elbow dislocations. When the elbow cartilage is damaged, progressive arthritis often develops.

Signs of Elbow Arthritis

The most common symptom of elbow arthritis is the pain, although restrictions in mobility and limited ability to perform upper extremity activities are also common. Patients can typically tolerate mild symptoms of arthritis, as upper extremity joint problems are better tolerated (you don't have to walk with your arms), and most elbow activities don't require people to have full range of motion.

  • Pain in the elbow
  • Limited range-of-motion/stiffness
  • Swelling of the elbow
  • Grinding sensations of the elbow
  • Instability of the elbow joint

Treatment for Elbow Arthritis

Possible treatments of elbow arthritis range from simple to invasive. Most patients try simple treatments first and only proceed to more invasive treatments if the simple measures do not provide adequate relief.

Some of the more common treatments for elbow arthritis include:

  • Oral anti-inflammatory medications
  • Activity modifications
  • Ice and heat application
  • Alternative treatments

If these simpler treatments are not effective, a cortisone injection is often helpful in relieving symptoms, at least temporarily.

Elbow arthroscopy is being used with increasing frequency for mild stages of arthritis. With this technique, your surgeon can remove inflamed tissue from the joint, clean out any loose cartilage, and shave bone spurs from the joint. Arthroscopic surgery is most useful for patients with moderate elbow arthritis, as more severe arthritis may require a replacement procedure to resolve symptoms.

If there is severe enough arthritis (inflammatory or post-traumatic) in a young person who is very active, there is a so-called “salvage” procedure called an interposition arthroplasty that may be considered. In this surgery, soft-tissue is transferred from elsewhere in the body to the elbow joint to provide a cushion between the bones. This type of procedure is favored over an implant or a total elbow replacement as complications are much more likely to develop and occur as the young person grows.

Elbow replacement surgery is a more common treatment for older patients who place less demand on their joints. Joint replacements of the elbow are not designed to withstand significant forces and can have problems if too much stress is placed on the implanted joint. 

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Soojian MG, Kwon YW. Elbow ArthritisBulletin of the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases. 2007;65(1):61-71.

  2. Fernandez-palazzi F, Rodriguez J, Oliver G. Elbow interposition arthroplasty in children and adolescents: long-term follow-up. Int Orthop. 2008;32(2):247-50. doi:10.1007/s00264-006-0299-0

Additional Reading

By Jonathan Cluett, MD
Jonathan Cluett, MD, is board-certified in orthopedic surgery. He served as assistant team physician to Chivas USA (Major League Soccer) and the United States men's and women's national soccer teams.