What is Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is degenerative joint disease. The ends of bones are covered with cartilage which forms the normal smooth gliding surface responsible for pain free movement. In OA there is a failure of the normal repair mechanisms and cartilage is lost. As a result, the gliding surface is no longer smooth. At the extreme, cartilage is lost completely (bone on bone). The body responds to this by producing extra bone around the margins of the joint (osteophytes). Sometimes these break off to form loose bodies that may move around the joint.
What are the symptoms of Osteoarthritis?
In the elbow the typical symptoms of arthritis are stiffness and pain at the extremes of motion (impingement) due to the osteophytes. Loose bodies can jam in the joint and cause sudden severe pain and inability to move (locking).
Surgery for Osteoarthritis
Surgery is only undertaken if other treatment options have failed.
Unlike other joints, elbow arthroplasty (replacement) is not commonly performed for osteoarthritis. Impingement pain and stiffness can be reliably improved by cutting tightened soft tissues and removing osteophytes and loose bodies.
Depending on the size and location of osteophytes and loose bodies and the severity of the stiffness this surgery may be done through arthroscopic (keyhole) surgery or through a small open incision either at the back of the elbow or the side.