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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 (1).
  • Patients with rheumatoid arthritis have elbow involvement 20–65% of the time (2).
    • 5% of patients with rheumatoid arthritis will have isolated elbow involvement (2).

Etiology and Pathophysiology

  • Primary osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, posttraumatic arthritis, septic arthritis, crystalline arthropathy, inflammatory arthritis
  • Primary osteoarthritis
    • Usually affects dominant arm of middle-aged males with history of repetitive arm use (throwing athletes, heavy laborers)
    • Symptoms often due to osteophyte formation
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
    • Inflammatory attack on synovium with eventual damage to cartilage and bone
  • Posttraumatic elbow arthritis
    • Most common in young males
    • Malunion of displaced intra-articular radial head fracture leads to radiocapitellar osteoarthritis.
    • Malunion of intra-articular distal humerus or proximal ulna fracture may also occur and contribute to later arthritic change.
  • Other inflammatory conditions: systemic lupus erythematosus, psoriatic arthritis, reactive arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and so forth

Risk Factors

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

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Stephens, Mark B., et al., editors. "Elbow Arthritis." 5-Minute Clinical Consult, 27th ed., Wolters Kluwer, 2019. Medicine Central, im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/816853/all/Elbow_Arthritis.
Elbow Arthritis. In: Stephens MB, Golding J, Baldor RA, et al, eds. 5-Minute Clinical Consult. 27th ed. Wolters Kluwer; 2019. https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/816853/all/Elbow_Arthritis. Accessed April 26, 2019.
Elbow Arthritis. (2019). In Stephens, M. B., Golding, J., Baldor, R. A., & Domino, F. J. (Eds.), 5-Minute Clinical Consult. Available from https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/816853/all/Elbow_Arthritis
Elbow Arthritis [Internet]. In: Stephens MB, Golding J, Baldor RA, Domino FJ, editors. 5-Minute Clinical Consult. Wolters Kluwer; 2019. [cited 2019 April 26]. Available from: https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/816853/all/Elbow_Arthritis.
* Article titles in AMA citation format should be in sentence-case
TY - ELEC T1 - Elbow Arthritis ID - 816853 ED - Stephens,Mark B, ED - Golding,Jeremy, ED - Baldor,Robert A, ED - Domino,Frank J, BT - 5-Minute Clinical Consult, Updating UR - https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/816853/all/Elbow_Arthritis PB - Wolters Kluwer ET - 27 DB - Medicine Central DP - Unbound Medicine ER -