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How to Treat Pain from Elbow Arthritis

by Patty Weasler, RN June 04, 2020 0 Comments

Woman wearing elbow brace

Elbow arthritis treatment starts with simple conservative options like rest, medication, and activity modification. If these options do not bring the results you’re looking for then trying medical treatments like physical therapy, cortisone injections, or surgery can be the right choice. Here we will discuss the different treatment options for elbow arthritis and how they can reduce your pain and get you back to all the activities you enjoy.

Home Treatments and Prevention

The pain and decreased range of motion that goes along with elbow arthritis is more than a nuisance, it can get in the way of your job and more. Here are effective home treatments that can help manage your symptoms.

  • Rest

    The elbow joint can take a lot of abuse but too much can cause pain and eventually overuse can cause osteoarthritis. Resting is a conservative treatment that will give your body time to heal. It allows for inflammation decrease which can reduce pain and improve your limited range of motion.

  • Anti-Inflammatory Medications

    Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen are common types of over-the-counter medications that reduce swelling and provide pain relief. These drugs can be taken before the activity to help reduce the likelihood of pain or once you’re already feeling symptoms of elbow arthritis. We recommend talking to your doctor or pharmacist before starting a new medication.

  • Ice and Heat

    Ice and heat are simple treatments that can make a difference in your joint pain. Try grabbing an ice pack or submerge your elbow in a cold bath to numb the pain and reduce swelling. Ice your elbow in 20-minute intervals but be sure to take it off before bed.

    Use a heating pad or warm towel on your elbow to soothe sore muscles and increase blood flow. Avoid using heat if you have recently injured your elbow because it can increase swelling.

Learn About Alternating Hot & Cold Therapy
  • Lifestyle Changes

    The best lifestyle changes you can make are ones that help you avoid injuring your elbow joint. Try to avoid activities that cause pain and put excess strain on the joint. For movements that can’t be completely avoided change how you do the movement. For example, if you have to lift a heavy object don’t do it with your elbows completely straight.

Medical Treatment

If home treatments aren’t enough to manage your elbow arthritis then it’s time to look into medical treatments. Your doctor will be able to help guide you through the best treatment options for your situation.

  • Cortisone Injections

    If home treatments aren’t effective your doctor may suggest a cortisone injection. This treatment of elbow arthritis uses a steroid that is injected directly into the affected joint. Cortisone can give you relief for a while but it likely won’t be permanent. Your doctor will let you know if you can have repeat injections and how frequently.

  • Physical Therapy

    Physical therapists are trained in evaluating and treating a wide range of conditions that involve joints, muscles, and bones. During a physical therapy session, you will be taught how to perform strengthening and stretching exercises to protect your elbow from further damage. If you have had surgery, your therapist will work on helping you regain range of motion, reduce stiffness, and swelling.

Surgical Treatment

If home and medical treatment aren’t enough to manage your elbow pain then your doctor may suggest surgery. The exact type of surgery will be decided based on the severity of the condition, age of the patient, and expected activity outcomes of the patient.

  • Synovectomy and Removal of Osteophytes

    If you have severe rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis in your elbow your surgeon may recommend a synovectomy and removal of osteophytes. During this procedure, the surgeon removes the synovium and bone spurs from the elbow joint. This surgical procedure typically offers pain relief, improves the patient’s range of motion, and is done during the early stages of rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Elbow Arthrodesis

    Elbow arthrodesis is a surgical procedure that involves the surgeon removing the damaged cartilage and a fusion of the bones in the joint. This type of procedure will reduce pain and improve stability in the joint. The huge disadvantage of this procedure is that the patient loses the ability to bend their elbow.

  • Elbow arthroplasty

    Elbow arthroplasty is an elbow replacement surgery that involves the surgeon replacing the damaged elbow joint. The surgeon will use an internal prosthesis or external fixation device for the elbow replacement. A total joint replacement like this is typically reserved for patients over 60 years old with severe rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Arthroscopy

    Elbow arthroscopy is a surgical procedure that has been shown to improve symptoms and range of motion in the elbow joint. It can be performed as an outpatient procedure and has a short recovery time. Arthroscopy involves removing loose bone and cartilage within the joint.

Safe and Effective Elbow Arthritis Treatment

Elbow arthritis treatment is aimed at reducing pain and improving range of motion. There are many safe and effective treatments available for the condition. It’s best to talk to a doctor before you start treatment to help you determine the best plan of action. Whichever treatment option you decide on we hope that you get back to all the activities you enjoy doing, fast!




Patty Weasler, RN
Patty Weasler, RN

Patty Weasler is a freelance health writer and nurse. She is certified in critical care nursing and has been practicing for over 10 years. Patty lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending her time with family and educating people about their health.

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