Cartilage at the end of bones provides cushioning so that the bones can move fluidly past each other at joints. Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage is destroyed, causing the bones to rub together. This condition can occur because of injury to a joint or from simple age-related wear and tear. Another type of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, causes inflammation in the joint linings, which can destroy the cartilage and bones as well as the soft tissues that cushion them.
Arthritis in the elbow often causes difficulties in bending or straightening the elbow, and the joint can become stiff and lock up. Pain and swelling in the elbows may also occur. A diagnosis of arthritis can usually be made by assessing the symptoms and taking standard X-rays, which will typically show narrowing of the joint or loose, bony pieces in the joint. Rest, physical therapy, and corticosteroid injections can help alleviate symptoms, but some patients need surgery.
Arthroscopic surgery is an outpatient procedure that is performed by inserting small instruments through several small incisions around the joint to remove loose, diseased, or damaged tissues. When wear or damage to the joint surfaces is too extensive, the physician may need to replace the joint completely.