Wrist & Elbow Arthritis
Arthritis of the Elbow
Although the elbows are not weight-bearing joints, they are considered to be most important for the functioning of the upper limbs. Hence, even minor trauma or disease affecting the elbow may cause pain and limit the movements of the upper limbs. Arthritis is one of the common disease conditions affecting the elbow joint.
Signs and Symptoms of Elbow Arthritis
Elbow arthritis is an inflammatory condition that causes pain, swelling, stiffness, and interference with the use of the arm.
Causes of Elbow Arthritis
Arthritis can affect all ages but is most commonly seen in people aged over 40 years. The most common cause is wear and tear. Apart from that, traumatic injuries, fractures, and dislocations make you more susceptible to arthritis.
Types of Arthritis
There are several types of arthritis, the most common being:
- Osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease is the most common type of arthritis that affects the elderly. It causes the cartilage, the tissue that cushions and protects the ends of bones in a joint, to wear off, causing painful rubbing of the bones.
- Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy joints, tissues, and organs. It can cause pain, stiffness, swelling, deformity, and loss of function in the joints.
- Post-traumatic arthritis develops after an injury to the elbow. The condition may develop years after the trauma such as a fracture, severe sprain or ligament tears.
- Psoriatic arthritis occurs in some, as a result of psoriasis, a scaling skin disorder.
Diagnosis of Elbow Arthritis
Arthritis in the elbow is diagnosed by a thorough physical examination and X-ray.
Treatment Options for Elbow Arthritis
Treatment can include conservative options such as medications and steroid injections to relieve pain, activity modification and use of splints. Surgery is usually considered if non-surgical treatment fails to offer relief. Total elbow replacement is a surgical procedure used to restore the function and relieve the pain in the elbows affected by arthritis. In total elbow replacement surgery, the damaged regions of the elbow joint are replaced with artificial components.
What is Arthritis of the Hand and Wrist?
Arthritis is an inflammatory condition of the joints. There are several types of arthritis and the most common type is osteoarthritis or wear-and-tear arthritis. Arthritis affects various joints in the body and the arthritis in the hand affects the joint at the base of the thumb. Arthritis may also affect the joints of other digits.
What are the Causes of Arthritis of the Hand and Wrist?
Arthritis is often seen in people aged over 40 years; however, it may affect people of all ages. The most common cause is wear-and-tear, as you age, you are more prone to develop arthritis. Also, traumatic injuries, fractures and joint dislocation make you more susceptible to develop arthritis. Certain types of arthritis are more common in women than men, as in thumb arthritis.
What are the Types of Arthritis?
There are over several types of arthritis. The most common are:
Osteoarthritis: Also called degenerative joint disease this is the most common type of arthritis that often occurs in older people. This disease affects the cartilage, the tissue that cushions and protects the ends of bones in a joint. With osteoarthritis, the cartilage starts to wear away over time. In extreme cases, the cartilage can completely wear away, leaving nothing to protect the bones in a joint, causing bone-on-bone contact. Bones may also bulge or stick out at the end of a joint to form bone spurs.
Osteoarthritis causes joint pain and can limit your normal range of motion (the ability to freely move and bend a joint). When severe, the joint may lose all movement, causing disability.
Rheumatoid arthritis: This is an auto-immune disease in which the body's immune system (the body's way of fighting infections) attacks healthy joints, tissues and organs. Occurring most often in women of child-bearing age (15-44), this disease inflames the lining (or synovium) of joints. It can cause pain, stiffness swelling, and loss of function in the joints. When severe, rheumatoid arthritis can deform or change a joint. For example, the joints in a person's finger can become deformed, causing the finger to bend or curve.
Rheumatoid arthritis mostly affects the joints of the hands and feet, and tends to be symmetrical. This means the disease affects the same joints on both sides of the body at the same time and with the same symptoms. No other form of arthritis is symmetrical. About two to three times as many women as men have this disease.
Post-traumatic arthritis: Arthritis, developing following an injury to the hand, wrist or elbow is called as post-traumatic arthritis. The condition may develop years after the trauma such as a fracture, severe sprain or ligament tears.
Psoriatic arthritis: This form of arthritis occurs in some persons with psoriasis, a scaling skin disorder, affecting the joints at the ends of the fingers and toes. It can also cause changes in the fingernails and toenails. Back pain may occur if the spine is involved.
What are the Symptoms of Arthritis of the Hand and Wrist?
The symptoms of arthritis include swelling, pain, stiffness and malformation, all of which interfere with the use of the hand.
How is Arthritis of the Hand and Wrist Diagnosed?
Your doctor can usually make the diagnosis of thumb arthritis by examining the thumb. X-rays of the joint may be taken to know the severity of the disease, and determine any bone spurs or calcium deposits.
What are the Treatments available for Arthritis of the Hand and Wrist?
Non-surgical treatment methods for relieving pain in an arthritic joint include activity modification, pain medications, use of splints and steroid injections. Surgery is usually considered if non-surgical treatment fails to give relief. There are different surgical procedures that can be used and may include:
Synovectomy: This surgery is usually indicated for early cases of inflammatory arthritis where there is significant swelling (synovitis) that is causing pain or is limiting the range of motion of your digits and thumb. Synovectomy is a surgical removal of the inflamed synovium (tissue lining the joint). The procedure may be performed using arthroscopy.
Arthroplasty: In this procedure, your surgeon removes the affected joint and replaces it with an artificial implant. If you have post-traumatic arthritis and osteoarthritis where the bone is hard and demand on the hand is moderate, new ceramic implants are used. These are not desirable for severely damaged or an unstable joint. For inflammatory arthritis, where the bone is not strong enough and the demand on the hand is low, older silicone rubber joints are generally used. These can be used for more severe joint damage and an unstable joint.
Arthrodesis: A fusion, also called an arthrodesis, involves the removal of the joints and fusing the bones of the joint together using metal wires or screws. Even though this surgery eliminates all motion at the base of the thumb, the resulting fusion is very hard.
This surgery is usually indicated when the joints are severely damaged, when there is limited mobility, damage to the surrounding ligaments and tendons, failed previous arthroplasty, and when heavy manual use is expected.
Your surgeon will discuss the options and help you decide which type of surgery is the most appropriate for you.
What is the Rehabilitation following Surgery for Arthritis of the Hand?
Following surgery, a rehabilitation program, often involving a physical therapist, may help to regain hand strength and movement. You may need to use a postoperative splint for a while after surgery to help protect the hand while it heals. You may need to restrict activities for a minimum of 12 weeks to let the joint reconstruction heal properly. Although recovery is slow, you should be able to resume your normal activities within a few months of surgery.