Arthritis of the elbow is relatively uncommon in comparison with the knee or hip joint. The more common forms of elbow arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis of the elbow can cause pain and stiffness in the elbow. Sometimes, pieces of bone and / or cartilage can break off (loose bodies) and cause locking or pain in the elbow. The treatment of loose bodies is discussed here.
Most patients with osteoarthritis in the elbow usually only have significant pain when their elbow reaches the limits of its motion. The pain is caused by the bony spurs being jammed into one another. If non-operative measures have failed to improve the problem, then consideration can be given to excising the bone spurs. This aims to improve the pain and sometimes improves the motion as well.
Rheumatoid arthritis can effect the elbow as well. If the medical management (medications e.g methotrexate) of the rheumatoid patient has been optimized and the patient still has elbow pain, then surgery may be considered to improve the pain.
The surgical options include elbow arthroscopy and debridement or excision of the radial head, or total elbow replacement. Total elbow replacement should be reserved for the patient who has low functional demands and expectations of their elbow, as they will have significant lifting restrictions because of the elbow replacement for the rest of their lives.