Degenerative Elbow

What is a degenerative Elbow?

There are 3 bones that make up your elbow – the humerus, radius and ulna. The connections between these bones along with the muscle help to bend and straighten the elbow and also rotate the forearm. The ends of the bones are covered with cartilage and this helps prevent the bones rubbing against each other when the elbow is moved.

Degeneration of the elbow (arthritis) occurs through wear and tear over time, following an injury or as part of an inflammatory condition such as rheumatoid arthritis. In these conditions the cartilage of the elbow joint damaged leading to pain, swelling and loss of movement. Significant pain can occur, often at night, leading to difficulties with day to day activities and work. Occasionally pieces of degenerative bone may become loose causing “locking” symptoms in the elbow.

How can physiotherapy help?

Non-surgical- Physiotherapy can help to minimise your symptoms by working on the soft tissues around the elbow joint to help improve your movement and strength at the elbow. Physiotherapy can also help to asses your working, sporting or home environment, to help adapt your activities therefore easing pain and making these activities easier.

Surgical- Physiotherapy helps after surgery to gradually increase your movement and strength and enable you to resume functional activities that were previously difficult.

Surgery aims to remove inflamed areas of bone, allowing more freedom of movement. This will also reduce any pressure on surrounding nerves, reducing swelling and pain. Not all patients will find full resolution of their symptoms and frequently surgery will be coordinated with medical (tablet) treatment to maximise pain relief and movement.

Surgery may be performed through keyhole technique (arthroscopy) or “open” technique through a wound at the back of the elbow. Following surgery significant physiotherapy will be required to maximise any benefits achieved. If significant arthritis is present further procedures such as elbow replacement surgery may be discussed.