Elbow Arthritis

Elbow Arthritis is a topic covered in the 5-Minute Clinical Consult.

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  • Results from destruction of articular surface between radiocapitellar and ulnotrochlear joints
  • Characterized by pain and loss of motion, with swelling and instability in later stages


  • Elbow arthritis is uncommon.
  • Affects males and females equally
  • Primary osteoarthritis affects <5% of the general population.
  • Patients with rheumatoid arthritis have elbow involvement 20–65% of the time (1).
    • 5% of patients with rheumatoid arthritis will have isolated elbow involvement (1).

Etiology and Pathophysiology

  • Primary osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, posttraumatic arthritis, septic arthritis, crystalline arthropathy, inflammatory arthritis, and other inflammatory conditions
  • Primary osteoarthritis
    • Usually affects dominant arm of middle-aged males with history of repetitive arm use (throwing athletes, heavy laborers)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
    • Inflammatory attack on synovium with eventual damage to cartilage and bone
  • Posttraumatic elbow arthritis
    • Most common in young males
    • Intra-articular radial head fracture can lead to radiocapitellar osteoarthritis.
    • Intra-articular distal humerus or proximal ulna fracture may lead to arthritic change.

Risk Factors

  • History of strenuous, repetitive arm use
  • Rheumatoid arthritis or other inflammatory state
  • Prior elbow trauma or fracture
  • History of septic arthritis
  • Hemophilia

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