Degenerative Joint Diseases of the Elbow

Joint diseases affecting the elbow have sidetracked the careers of many professional athletes over the years. However, these painful conditions also can have a devastating affect on amateur athletes, weekend warriors and other active adults.

Although degenerative joint disease can occur without apparent cause, this problem most commonly develops subsequent to an elbow injury. Fortunately, a full range of treatment options is available to relieve pain and restore strength and mobility.

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How Degenerative Joint Disease Affects the Elbow

Degenerative diseases of the elbow can occur as a primary (idiopathic) or secondary condition.

Over the years, wear and tear can begin to break down the bone and soft tissues of the joint, a condition known as degenerative arthrosis. This, in turn, can lead to inflammation and osteoarthrosis of the elbow.

Elbow joint disease develops more often as a secondary condition after a patient experiences a dislocation, fracture, sprain or serious bruise. These injuries can modify the structure and operation of the joint, or leave bits of cartilage floating loose inside the elbow. If the extent of the joint damage was not apparent after an injury, scar tissue can accumulate as the body works to heal itself.

Any of these conditions can lead to a degenerative joint disease such as osteoarthritis.

Possible Indications of Degenerative Elbow Joint Disease

In the initial stages of degenerative joint disease, patients may only experience discomfort — typically pain or stiffness — after periods of activity. As the disease progresses, swelling develops and the pain becomes more frequent.

Eventually, elbow pain may become continuous, even interfering with the ability to sleep. Tightness increases, affecting mobility and the use of the lower arm. Eventually, the arm becomes significantly weakened and the patient may not be able to straighten or bend the elbow.

Those who have a family history of joint disease face an increased risk, as do older patients — especially middle-aged males who regularly engage in strenuous arm activities.

Treatment for Degenerative Elbow Disease

For most patients, the doctor will initially recommend a conservative approach to treatment. This may involve restricting activities that exacerbate the pain, medication to manage pain and physical therapy.

For many patients, however, a noninvasive joint disease treatment approach is not effective — especially if the degeneration has progressed significantly. Minimally invasive therapies, including corticosteroid injections, may be effective in some cases. However, surgery may be necessary for patients with ongoing pain or loss of mobility.

An arthroscopic (closed) or open surgical approach may be used for treating degenerative elbow conditions. Fortunately, advancements in technology and surgical technique allow orthopedic surgeons to complete most elbow joint problems arthroscopically. However, if the damage cannot be repaired, the surgeon may recommend replacing some or all of the elbow joint.

The Center of Orthopedic & Rehabilitation Excellence, or CORE, specializes in providing the most comprehensive orthopedic and sports medicine treatment, including treatment for elbow pain and injury. Contact one of our specialized elbow physicians, available at our Riverton, West Valley City and West Jordan, Utah, locations, to schedule a consultation to discuss degenerative elbow joint disease.