If you’re an athlete with elbow pain:

…Ask your doctor about elbow arthritis 

…Use home treatments to manage the pain

…Work with a sports physical therapist to prevent elbow arthritis

You probably don’t think about your elbows often, but consider how those joints play a part in your favorite sports. Every time an athlete holds a bat or club, throws a ball, swims, swings, or runs, their elbow joint allows their arm to complete the action.

That’s why conditions like elbow arthritis are so problematic for athletes. This painful condition can reduce your range of motion and keep you from competing. Luckily, a little information about how arthritis occurs and what you can do to prevent it can go a long way in keeping you at the top of your game. 

What Is Arthritis?

When we talk about arthritis in athletes, we really mean osteoarthritis. This condition develops when the cushion of cartilage in a joint wears away due to overuse and trauma. The resulting friction can be very painful and damaging. Osteoarthritis is different from rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune disease that causes joint inflammation. 

Osteoarthritis In the Elbow

Osteoarthritis only occurs in the elbow joint when it has suffered an injury due to overuse or an accident. That is why athletes are at risk for osteoarthritis in the elbow. 

Your elbow joint connects the radius and ulna bones in your forearm to the larger humerus bone in your upper arm. These bones fit into spaces in the joint called protrusions, and together they form the hinge joint of your elbow. 

At the end of each of these bones is a pad of cartilage. This cartilage keeps your bones from rubbing against each other and acts as a shock absorber. 

When you use your elbow joint to perform the same motion over and over again (such as hitting tennis balls or pitching a baseball), it wears down the cartilage that protects the bones. The resulting friction causes pain, swelling, and stiffness. If you are experiencing these complaints frequently as an athlete, you might have osteoarthritis in your elbow.

How to Diagnose Elbow Arthritis 

Minor aches and pains are common among athletes. However, if elbow pain is consistently disrupting your game, and home remedies aren’t helping, you should seek medical treatment. A doctor can diagnose you with elbow arthritis if that is the issue. 

Your doctor’s first clues as to your ailment will be your symptoms. Symptoms of arthritis in the elbow include:

…Joint pain


…Limited range of motion


… Elbow locking or grinding 

In addition to discussing your symptoms, your doctor will ask about your medical history and perform a physical examination. They may also require an X-ray or MRI to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other issues. 

While arthritis is most common in older people, athletes of all ages are at risk for early-onset arthritis, and your doctor will consider this factor.

Treatment for Arthritis In the Elbow

If you are diagnosed with elbow arthritis, your doctor will recommend some combination of the following treatments:

…Low impact exercises to improve joint mobility and prevent stiffness

…Over-the-counter pain relievers

…Warm compresses

…Cold packs

…Rest for the joint

…Physical therapy

In severe cases, surgery may be required. There are several surgical procedures for elbow arthritis, which your doctor will discuss with you.

Prevent Elbow Arthritis with Physical Therapy

Whether you have experienced elbow arthritis already or not, you’re probably wondering if it can be prevented. Short of quitting sports, which have many health benefits, there is one thing you can do that is very effective against developing elbow arthritis: visit a sports physical therapist. 

An experienced sports physical therapist can analyze your unique physique and technique and see how they affect the way you use your elbow while competing. They can then offer corrections and exercises to reduce strain on your elbow joints and increase strength. 

With your therapist’s advice, you can hold off early-onset osteoarthritis and play your game longer, pain-free.

True Sports Physical Therapy – Where Maryland Athletes Rehab

At True Sports, we’re sports-focused because you’re sports-focused. The best physical therapists in Baltimore and Maryland provide the highest level of sports physical therapy and expertise you need to get back to your sport. With six convenient state-of-the-art locations to choose from, any athlete who takes their rehab seriously can get awesome care and extraordinary results. Select your location, schedule an appointment, and have True Sports get you back to your team. For questions about insurance or self-pay rates, please call our office at 1-401-946-1672.