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Warning Signs of Elbow Arthritis

Warning Signs of Elbow Arthritis

Your elbow is intrinsic to most daily activities — washing dishes, carrying a briefcase, typing on a computer, playing sports like tennis, or lifting weights. You may not even realize how much you rely on the ability to extend and bend your elbow until it gives you pain signals in the form of arthritis.

Early intervention and management of arthritis pain can help you keep pain to a minimum and optimize function. Know the warning signs of elbow arthritis, so you can schedule a consultation with us at Atlantic Orthopedic Specialists and start therapy.

Causes of elbow arthritis

Arthritis is arthritis, right? Well, in reality many types of arthritis may cause your pain. In the case of the elbow, you likely have either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.

In osteoarthritis — the most common form of arthritis — wear-and-tear coupled with the aging process degrades cartilage at your elbow joint. Cartilage provides cushioning between the bones as you move the joint. So when this cushioning wears down, you get pain and stiffness. Osteoarthritis most commonly affects weight-bearing joints, such as the knees, but the elbows may also be affected.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition that affects the lining of your joints, known as the synovia. This lining swells, narrowing the joint and gradually destroying both bone and soft tissue. Your elbow joint, as well as your hands, shoulders, and wrists are often affected. Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common type that affects the elbows.

Warning signs

Warning signs and symptoms of elbow arthritis vary from individual to individual, but they may include any of the following:


You may experience pain primarily on the outside of the joint. You notice more pain when you rotate your forearm and as you extend your arm. If this pain persists through the night, your arthritis is likely more advanced. Pain in both elbows is a clue that you may have rheumatoid arthritis.


Swelling is usually a symptom of rheumatoid arthritis. Take special care to notice if swelling is also present at other joints, such as your wrists or shoulders.


If your elbow joint is harder to move and cranky, especially when you get up in the morning, it is likely a sign of arthritis. Arthritis can develop after an injury, and stiffness is a common symptom in such cases.

Limited range of motion

You may find it painful, or seemingly impossible, to fully extend or bend the elbow.


The elbow joint may seem weak or unstable, so you can’t carry objects or bear much weight on your arms.


Another possible warning sign of arthritis is locking or catching when you extend your elbow joint.

How is elbow arthritis treated?

At Atlantic Orthopedic Specialists, our doctors can help you manage elbow arthritis. They may recommend lifestyle changes that include altering activities that aggravate your pain, such as repetitive movements in certain sports or at work. Over-the-counter pain medication can help alleviate discomfort in the short term. You may also receive prescription medications to manage rheumatoid arthritis affecting the elbow.

You may benefit from physical therapy that helps discourage stiffness and promotes range of motion. Splints, ice and heat therapy, and gentle exercises can also help.

Your doctor may talk to you about surgery if you fail to respond to these conservative arthritis management techniques.

Schedule a consultation if you notice any of the warning signs of elbow arthritis so that you don’t live with pain and so that you maintain as much function in the joint as possible.

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