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October 28, 2021

How does rheumatoid arthritis affect the elbow?


Rheumatoid arthritis can affect any of the joints in the body, including the elbow joint. This long-term condition causes inflammation, stiffness, and pain around affected joints.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a serious condition, and it occurs when your immune system mistakes the lining of the joints for an invader. 

This case of mistaken identity can lead to many issues in your joints, and it’s the most common type of arthritis that affects the elbow. 

Here are three ways rheumatoid arthritis in the elbow can feel: 


Arthritis in the Elbow, Joint Pain




Pain is one of the most common feelings that rheumatoid arthritis causes in the elbow. 

The pain is a result of the attacks the immune system makes on the joint lining, but several other issues that may occur before you feel pain in the elbow. 

The soft tissue in your elbow is likely to become inflamed first, and then, the body will send fluid rushing to the joint. 

This is commonly called swelling. When the swelling doesn’t go away, it gives elbow structures less room to move, and this can cause them to rub against each other. 

This friction is the direct cause of the pain you feel. 




Rheumatoid arthritis in the elbow can also make your elbow feel like it has lumps in it. 

In this case, this feeling isn’t an illusion, because rheumatoid arthritis can cause lumps to form under the skin of the elbow joint. 

These lumps are called rheumatoid nodules, and the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society in the United Kingdom reports that they appear in about 20% of patients with rheumatoid arthritis. 

Typically, the lumps aren’t painful to the touch. Medical professionals have also noticed that people who smoke are more likely to develop nodules if they have rheumatoid arthritis. 




The elbow joint can also feel like it’s changing shape when you have rheumatoid arthritis. 

Over time, the condition can cause parts of the elbow bones to erode away, and this is why it feels like the joint’s shape has changed. 

Also, the damage to the bones can cause you to gradually lose the normal range of motion in the elbow. The bone damage can eventually cause an issue called ankylosis, where the bones of the joint fuse together. Damage to the elbow bones can irritate nerves that run into your forearms and hands, which can lead to numbness in these areas.  


Health Plus Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Center can help treat your elbow arthritis


Is rheumatoid arthritis causing your elbow to feel pain? Health Plus Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Center (PT) has a team that can help you. 

We can do a free screening to figure out how arthritis is affecting your elbow, and we’ll use this knowledge to build a personalized treatment plan for you. 

Your plan will use multiple therapy techniques, and it will be designed to provide benefits such as: 

  • Reduced pain

  • Improved range of motion

  • Increased ability to perform routine tasks

Don’t wait to start treating your arthritis. Contact our Expert PT today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment. 

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