Osteoarthritis is a common condition that can affect any joint in the body but it is more common in some joints than others. Joints like the elbow are rarely affected by osteoarthritis because they are strong and stable joints which are generally “non-weight bearing”, however it can occur in some circumstances.
Osteoarthritis can be defined as stiffness and or pain in the affected joints. People with these symptoms usually have associated changes in the joint which used to be called “degenerative changes” or “wear and tear” but are now understood to be signs of healthy aging, just like wrinkles or grey hairs!
As we get older our joint lining or “cartilage” gets thinner and loses its smoothness. Sometimes the joint will grow spurs or rough edges which are called “osteophytes” and the joint capsule or ligaments can become stretched and loose.
The changes described above happen gradually over a lifetime and usually go unnoticed and cause no pain or stiffness until something changes. In fact, from about 25 years old, a close look at your joints with X-ray, CT or MRI will start to show the changes in cartilage or joint spaces that are associated with osteoarthritis.
Injuries to the joint, periods of immobilisation, illness or sudden increases or decreases in activity can all lead to flare ups of osteoarthritic pain. It is becoming increasingly understood that periods of increased stress or low mood can also impact osteoarthritic pain.
In the elbow specifically, osteoarthritis can be more likely if there has been a previous fracture or ligament injury in the past.
An osteoarthritic elbow is likely to become stiff and painful without an obvious mechanism of injury such as a fall or impact to the arm. The joint might feel more tight in the mornings upon waking, or in the cold weather.
If there has been an injury or if there is a sudden increase in swelling, heat or redness it is more likely that there is an acute injury which needs medical investigation.
There is no cure for osteoarthritis, however there are many things that you can learn that will help you to manage your symptoms, get stronger and ensure that you can maintain full function and a rich and meaningful life in the long term.
Treatment options for elbow arthritis include protecting the joint from aggravating activities and finding adaptive strategies to avoid heavy repetitive loads. From there, movement and strengthening exercises will help the body to maintain joint health and minimise limitations in movement, strength and function, as well as decreasing pain.
Living a healthy and active lifestyle will decrease the likelihood of developing osteoarthritis. If you start noticing symptoms of elbow osteoarthritis, seek help early so that you can get back to doing the things you enjoy sooner.
Our Upper Limb Therapists are experienced at assessing and treating osteoarthritis. They will be able to provide a complete physical examination to determine if there are other contributors to your pain or limitations in range of motion.
Once your assessment is complete, our therapists will be able to provide you with exercises for mobility and strengthening as well as advice regarding pain management strategies. Our therapists have good relationships with the best orthopaedic surgeons in Victoria and can arrange for a consultation if surgical options need to be explored.
Our therapists will be able to work with you to help you to achieve your goals, whatever they are.