Osteoarthritis, or "wear and tear" arthritis, is a common degenerative disease that can affect any joint in the body. Osteoarthritis in the elbow happens when the cartilage that cushions the end of the bone wears thin or is damaged. Pain, immobility, and stiffness are the main symptoms. In the later stages of osteoarthritis of the elbow, patients may notice numbness in their ring finger and small finger - caused by elbow swelling or limited range of motion in the joint. As the body ages, osteoarthritis is quite common; it usually effects people over age 50. Past injury to the elbow may also cause osteoarthritis.

Diagnosing Osteoarthritis of the Elbow

Physical Exam

Your physician will ask you a series of questions and is likely to do a physical exam. The physical exam will including examining any specific areas of concern, especially as they relate to the reason for your visit to the office.


A form of electromagnetic radiation with very high frequency and energy. X-rays are used to examine and make images of things such as the bones and organs inside the body.


This test uses a magnetic field, radiofrequency pulses, and a computer to produce detailed images of body structures in multiple places. You may be injected with a contrast agent for better imaging, and you will most likely lie on a moving table as pictures are taken. MRI is a more detailed tool than x-ray and ultrasound and for certain organs or areas of the body, it provides better images than CT. MRI may not be recommended if you have a pacemaker or other metal implants.

Blood Tests

A common tool for disease screening, blood tests provide information about many substances in the body, such as blood cells, hormones, minerals, and proteins.

Treatments for Osteoarthritis of the Elbow

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

A class of medications, including but not limited to aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen, that are used for reducing pain and redness, swelling, and heat (inflammation) in arthritis and other painful inflammatory disorders.

Physical Therapy

Sometimes referred to simply as "PT," this is a type of rehabilitative treatment that uses specially designed exercises and equipment to help patients preserve, regain, or improve their physical abilities following injury, disability, disease, or surgery. Physical therapy can include therapeutic exercise, massage, assistive devices, and patient education and training.

Activity Modification

Physicians may prescribe general lifestyle changes to a patient, in order to help relieve the symptoms of their condition and improve their overall physical function and well-being. Depending on the medical condition being treated, activity modification may include: decreasing or increasing one's level of physical activity; added rest; beginning a new activity or exercise program; changing sleep habits; or modifying one's physical environment at home, in their vehicle, or at work.

Corticosteroid injections

Also known as cortisone shots, these are injections that may help relieve pain and inflammation in a specific area of the body. Cortisone shots are most commonly given into joints — such as the ankle, elbow, hip, knee, shoulder, spine, and wrist.

Glucosamine & Chondroitin Sulfate

Glucosamine is found naturally in the body. It stimulates the formation and repair of articular cartilage. Over-the-counter supplements come from animal sources. Chondroitin sulfate is another natural substance found in the body. It prevents other body enzymes from degrading the building blocks of joint cartilage.

Surgery for Osteoarthritis of the Elbow

When nonsurgical treatment methods have failed, surgery may be needed. If the elbow has limited wear or damage, or for patients with earlier-stage arthritis, arthroscopy – a minimally invasive surgical treatment – is an option. Arthroscopy involves removing any loose bodies or inflammatory/degenerative tissue in the joint. It also attempts to smooth out irregular surfaces on the joint. Multiple small incisions are used to perform the surgery: an outpatient procedure that is associated with rapid recovery. For joint surfaces that have worn away completely, joint replacement may be the best option. There are several different types of elbow joint replacement surgeries. The patient's surgeon can discuss the available options and determine the best surgical method for each patient.

Departments and Programs Who Treat This Condition


Orthopedic Surgery

The Department of Orthopedic Surgery offers orthopedic services from head to toe for acute injuries, as well as chronic conditions of the musculoskeletal system, to help you get b…

Physical and Occupational Therapy

Recovering from an injury or learning to live with a physical disability or limitation can be challenging. Physical therapy (PT) and occupational therapy (OT) can help patients re…