Elbow arthritis often becomes the main reason of pain in the elbow. This disease is characterized by inflammation of the synovial membrane that lines the joint. If we talk about monoarthritis, it must be mentioned that such a condition is diagnosed very rarely. In the majority of cases, the inflammatory process occurs simultaneously in multiple joints. The disease usually occurs in the carpal articulation, knee joint, shoulder joint, and hip joint. As for rheumatism, in this disease, the symptoms of arthritis of the elbow joint develop on both hands.
Elbow Arthritis Causes
Doctors emphasize on three main elbow arthritis causes that provoke the disease outbreak. These reasons are as follows:
- immune system malfunction;
- metabolic disorders.
Still, arthritis caused by infection is the most widely spread type of the disease.
There are two ways for the infection to get into the joints. The first and the most common way of the infection is reaching the organism through the blood. Moreover, the primary focus of infection may be located quite far away from the affected area. Those may be any septic wounds, lesions of osteomyelitis, as well as other inflammatory processes in the organs and tissues. The second way of the infection reaching the organism is the direct one when microorganisms get into the organism because of an injury.
A bruised elbow is often a cause of the inflammation. When there is a trauma, the blood accumulates in the joint capsule. In case one fails to receive a timely medical help, this blood becomes an excellent breeding ground for germs. Such a situation leads to an inflammatory process which, in its turn, results in the occurrence of arthritis. Elbow trauma may lead to the development of rheumatoid arthritis in elbow joint. Elbow arthritis can as well lead to tennis elbow occurrence. This may happen when the elbow experiences a micro-trauma on a regular basis (like monotonous movements performed by tennis players, students, chess players etc.). Traumas of the elbow may also result in post-traumatic arthritis.
In some cases, the disease develops as a complication of infections such as gonorrhea, scarlet fever, diphtheria, typhoid, tuberculosis. Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Proteus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa may provoke the outbreak of the disease as well.
In some diseases, the joints get involved in the inflammatory process in the later stages. Such diseases include arthragra, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus erythematosus, and ankylosing spondylitis.
Arthritis in Elbow Symptoms
The peculiarities of the anatomical structure of the elbow determine typical signs of the inflammation. For instance, local signs are always easy to notice, and, therefore, one can make a correct and timely diagnosis. The early signs and main symptoms of arthritis in the elbow usually include:
- pain in the joints;
- swelling of the soft tissue in the joint;
- redness of the skin of the joint;
- local temperature rise (the skin over the joint is hotter than in neighboring areas);
- the joint is less able to move.
Talking about arthritis in elbow symptoms, the main one which may be a signal of the disease is arm and elbow pain. The nature of pain and its intensity depend on the cause of arthritis. If we deal with rheumatic processes, pain is sharp, intense, it stops the elbow from moving. When dealing with gouty arthritis, pain is dull and aching. Pain, redness, and swelling are brought about by excess accumulation of joint fluid in the joint capsule, and inflammation of the articular cartilage.
In addition to the local symptoms of elbow arthritis, there are also general symptoms of the disease. As a rule, these are general weakness and malaise, fever, headache, nausea, and vomiting. There may be specific manifestations as well. For example, in tuberculosis it is hemoptysis, in sepsis these are purulent foci in other areas, and this may be cachexia if one has a tumor.
As for the painful feelings, they arise from the fact that the joint capsule is increased due to accumulating liquid. The capsule starts to press the nerves around it. The tension in the tendons and muscles when they move make the pain extremely severe. Therefore, a patient tends to make fewer movements with the hand.
Quite often the inflammatory process involves the nerves. Therefore, neuritis often occurs and completes the picture of the disease. In addition to the symptoms mentioned above, there are signs of intoxication: fever, weakness, headache, absence of appetite.
Diagnostics of the Disease
Although diagnosing elbow arthritis on the basis of its symptoms is not that difficult, it is still better to consult the doctor before starting the treatment process. A specialist will determine the level of inflammation severity and will prescribe the treatment appropriate for the specific case.
To find the right diagnosis, doctors usually use X-ray, CT, or MRI. Sometimes it is necessary to perform a synovial membrane biopsy. Ultrasound investigation allows to understand the exact volume of fluid in the joint. In addition, this method allows to monitor the progress of the treatment and helps to control the puncture when removing the fluid.
Sometimes patients have to do blood tests, biochemical tests, immunoassays, and some other diagnostic measures to get the correct diagnosis.
Elbow Arthritis Treatment
Specific methods of elbow arthritis treatment are chosen on the basis of the full examination of the patient and after getting the precise clinical findings. Methods of treatment include drugs intake, use of ointments and compresses, as well as therapeutic exercises, and physiotherapy.
- Treatment with medicines. First of all, the reason of the inflammatory process is to be eliminated. In case the inflammation is not eliminated, the drugs will probably eliminate the symptoms but not the problem itself. In such cases, arthritis recurs in a more stable form. If a patient has diabetes, he or she may need hormone therapy. The drugs are usually administered via intramuscular injection. For greater efficiency, the drugs are administrated directly into the joint capsule.
- Drug blockade. Pain relief is an important factor in successful treatment of the inflammatory process. In the treatment of elbow arthritis, doctors usually prescribe ointments in addition to the group of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs administrated by injections. Ointments warm up the affected area and increase blood flow to it. Using ointments is particularly effective for treatment of post-traumatic problems.
- Steroid hormones also reduce inflammation. These drugs are mainly used in the form of pills and ointments. Along with NSAIDs, the drugs to restore cartilage tissue (cartilage protectors) are as well used.
- Therapeutic exercises. Using elbow brace for arthritis treatment is extremely important. It is used for immobilization of the joint. Fixation is vital if arthritis affects the elbow with an injury, as well as in cases when there is a deformation of the joint and bone. When the patient is stable and the inflammatory process is eliminated, doctors prescribe therapeutic exercises for the joints contracture. As a rule, the therapy begins with slight shaky movements. Gradually, the amplitude increases. The exercises should be done in a pool if a patient has elbow arthritis after severe exacerbations.
- Surgical intervention. Medications and physical therapy may be of no use and bring no relief. In some situations, a surgery is the only solution to the problem. It is most commonly used for patients with septic arthritis. Surgical intervention may be as well used if the elbow disease has passed into the deformation stage. A patient himself may require a surgery to remove mamelon on the elbow bone. Endoprosthesis replacement is one of the widely used methods of dealing with the disease. That means a full or partial replacement of a tired joint. Physical rehabilitation after the joint replacement takes from 7 to 10 days. The flexibility in the joint returns on the second or third day after the surgery.
- Physiotherapy and massage. In the early stages of the disease, such methods may help to eliminate small bumps near the elbow. The peculiarity of the procedure is the fact that one should avoid any aggressive impact on the affected area. The technique of massage includes soft stroking movements that contribute to the outflow of lymph and normalization of blood circulation. Surgery is the last option which is assigned when traditional methods of treatment do not bring any positive results for a long time. If the patient suffers from pain in the elbow which cannot be eliminated by traditional methods, surgery is the only way out.