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Elbow Osteoarthritis

What is ?


What ?

How is ?



Elbow Arthritis

What is elbow arthritis?

It is not entirely clear why some people develop arthritis and some do not. We believe there is an association between trauma and developing arthritis. Similarly, repetitive heavy work such as weight lifting or using a jack-hammer can predispose some people to elbow arthritis.

What causes elbow arthritis?

How is elbow arthritis treated?

Elbow arthritis is similar to arthritis in any other joint but has some unique differences. The elbow has cartilage across the joint surface which allows the joint to move smoothly with motion. When the cartilage wears away, the joint begins to develop arthritis. Joint space narrowing is a common finding but so are osteophytes (small bony outgrowths around the joint) and small bony or cartilaginous loose bodies.

The surgical treatment is to arthroscopically remove loose bodies and remove motion limiting osteophytes.

In the early stages, we will attempt to maximize elbow range of motion with physical therapy and activity modification. If the arthritis progresses, you may benefit from surgery with arthroscopic debridement. This involves making small poke holes around the elbow and using special surgical instruments to look inside and remove the arthritic areas or loose bodies. This does not fix the arthritis but treats many of the pain generators associated with the arthritis.

If the elbow arthritis is severe, you may benefit from a total elbow replacement. This is a last resort because it places weight restriction limits on the patient's arm for life.

This table is a review of previous studies analyzing results after debridement for elbow osteoarthritis.


1. Skelley, N., Yamaguchi, K., Keener, J., Chamberlain, A., and Galatz, L. The Arthroscopic Treatment of Elbow Osteoarthritis. Scientific Exhibit: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons; Chicago, IL. March 2013.

2. Yan H, Cui G-Q, Wang J-Q, Yin Y, Ao Y-F. Arthroscopic debridement of osteoarthritic elbow in professional athletes. Chin Med J. 2011;124(24):4223-4228.

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