When Elbow Pain May Mean Arthritis
Many forms of arthritis and related conditions cause problems like pain, stiffness and swelling in the elbows. Here are some diseases that can affect the elbows:
Types of Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of joints and possibly internal organs. The result can be joint pain, swelling, inflammation and loss of function. The elbow is commonly affected in people with RA. This disease tends to affect similar joints on both sides of the body. That means if one elbow is affected the other likely will be, too.
The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis affects people who lose the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones where they meet to form joints. When cartilage wears away, the bones to rub together leading to stiffness, pain and loss of joint movement. While osteoarthritis can affect the elbow, it’s more common in weight-bearing joints, such as the knee and hip. Elbow OA is often the result of overuse or an injury.
Juvenile arthritis (JA)
Juvenile arthritis is the term used to a group of diseases that affect children and teens age 16 or younger. The most common type is juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). There are six forms of JIA. Oligoarticular JIA causes arthritis in four or fewer joints, typically in the knees, ankles, elbows.
Gout is a form of arthritis that occurs when uric acid (UA) builds up in the blood stream. The excess acid gets deposited as needle-shaped crystals in tissues of the body, including the joints. The first sign of gout is intense pain and swelling in the big toe. UA can collect in any area of the body including the elbows.
Tendons are fibrous tissues that connect muscles to bones. They can be found in the elbow and other areas of the body. Tendons can become inflamed and painful due to overuse, a condition called tendonitis. Tennis and golfer’s elbow are common types of this condition. However, tendonitis is relatively common in people with lupus.
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes the body's immune system to mistakenly attack healthy tissues, including the joints, skin and some internal organs. The joints farthest from the torso, such as those of the hands and feet, are most commonly affected by lupus. However, elbow joints can be affected too. People with lupus may develop a skin rash on the elbows.
Inflammation of the bursa (a small fluid-filled sac) at the tip of the elbow can cause pain, swelling and stiffness.
Psoriatic arthritis is form of arthritis accompanied by the skin disease psoriasis. Tendons may also become inflamed and cause pain (often around the heel or in the elbow).
Visit our resource center to learn more about these conditions. But discussing your symptoms with a primary care doctor is the most important step to get an accurate arthritis diagnosis. You may be referred to a rheumatologist or orthopaedist, who have specialized training in the treatment of arthritis and related conditions.
Carpal tunnel syndrome
This condition occurs when the nerve that runs from the forearm into the hand and supplies sensation to the palm and thumb side of the hand, becomes compressed within the carpal tunnel in the wrist. The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway formed by bones and a ligament. If the tunnel is swollen, the nerve can become compressed and cause pain, weakness, and/or numbness in the hand and wrist, that runs up the arm.
Scleroderma, (which means hard skin), is a term for disorders that cause abnormal growth of the tissues supporting the skin and internal organs. These conditions cause thickening and tightening of the skin on the fingers. This can make it harder to bend or straighten the fingers.
Dermatomyositis is an inflammatory muscle disease. Symptoms can include muscle pain and weakness, joint pain, skin rash, changes around the beds of the fingernails and roughening or cracking of the skin on the palms and fingertips, sometimes called mechanic's hands.
Also called Dupuytren's disease, this condition causes an abnormal thickening of a band of tissue in the palm of the hand (fascia). This can cause the fingers to bend toward the palm. The ring and little finger are most commonly affected.
Ganglion cysts are lumps that form next to the joints or tendons in the hand and wrist. The most common locations are the joints at the base of the fingers, joints closest to the nail, the top of the wrist or the palm. These cysts can come and go and may or may not be painful.
Stenosing tenosynovitis (trigger finger)
This condition occurs when the tissue at the base of a finger or thumb thickens, making it difficult to move the finger. This can cause popping, pain or a catching feeling in the finger or thumb.
Talk to your primary care doctor about your symptoms as soon as possible. Getting an accurate diagnosis will help to protect joint mobility and your overall health. You may be referred to a rheumatologist or orthopaedist, doctors who specialize in the treatment of arthritis and related conditions. Visit our resource center to learn more about these conditions.
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