T Nation

Elbow Arthritis


I developed arthritis and bone calcification in my right elbow about a year ago. Limited range of motion on both extension and flexion, and pain upon flexion. Have gone to an orthopedic surgeon/sports doctor and his suggestion is to leave it alone as surgery for elbow arthritis has about a 50% chance of success. I've had three cortisone shots, about 4 months apart, when the inflammation/pain gets bad.

My workouts haven't 'drastically' been effected, a bit more rest time, and some exercise limitations, assuming I'm not near the end of my 4 month post cortisone shots.

Just wondering if anyone else has experienced this kind of 'injury' and what the therapy results have been. Any success with surgery? Also any suggestions.


Give some more info. When do you have pain? Do you play any sports that cause issues? Do pulling movements hurt? Etc.


Never an athlete involved in sports, no traumatic injury to the joint, ever.

Pulling movements hurt at about a 40 degree bend, mostly on the triceps side of the elbow. Full extension feels 'tight' on the top of the forearm, the arm never fully extends, always a slight bend.

Those symptoms assume there's no 'flareup' of inflammation. Both flex ion and extension hurt when it's aggravated,a constant 'ache', and I can be reduced to about a 20 degree total range of motion.


I lived with mine for five years and had my spurs and loose bodies taken out this past Dec 22. The arthritis was much more advanced than thought and I'm really struggling getting my range of motion back. I wish I had the surgery earlier. Your dcctor is a little off the mark, while the bonespurs frequently reform they don't ever stop getting bigger so sooner or later you're going to have to have something done about them. My problem was when the bone spurs broke off and ground up my cartilage. I think you need a second opinion. The good news is that elbows are very tolerant of arthritis and although my power lifting days are over my lifting days are not.


Thanks for the reply. What was your condition prior to the surgery? Did you try any other forms of therapy to avoid surgery? I'd like to keep surgery as a last resort, but I think you're probably right, I need to look into other options.


There's really nothing you can do PT wise for bone spurs b/c your range of motion is limited in a hard way. The longer your range of motion is limited the tougher the "capsule" that will be that forms in your elbow. Eventhough the capsule gets released in surgery it limits the range of motion you'll get back so the longer you live with it the harder it will be to regain the range of motion.

Lifting wise I was ok but slowly and surely my range of motion and the exercises I could do decreased. It got to the point I couldn't do any pull exercises with anything resembling a full range of motion and my push looked like half reps. Arms curls were down right ugly and my biceps tendons at the elbow were getting sore all the time. Pain wise I was never in a lot of discomfort.

Trust me, get a second opinion and have some piece of mind. I don't like the advice your doctor gave you. Not the putting off the surgery part, but the rationale and the PT part. Make sure the spurs don't encroach on your ulnar nerve or cut into your triceps tendon.


Thanks for the replies JRT. I'm definitely going to seek a second opinion from someone who specializes in elbows. Hoping for a speedy recovery for you. Keep me posted on your progress if you will. Thanks!


You need to modify the way you lift to minimize the stress on your damaged joint. By far, the best method for this purpose is SuperSlow. The combination of low force and low volume will allow you to at least maintain your muscle mass without subjecting the joint to additional wear and tear. I know SuperSlow is unpopular in bodybuilding circles, but trust me, you don't want to fuck with an arthritic joint.


i have elbow issues from olecronon bursitis, and medial elbow pains. they've been going on a while and sometimes my elbow creeks. you say that elbow arthritis is well tolerated. so you can still benchpress with that>? geeze. i find it hard to believe that the elbow would be so resilient. but its not something most people think about, loosing their elbows.


My surgeon has only done one elbow replacement surgery and that was on a little 80 year old lady.

No offense but that "superslow" rationale is silly. The joint is under load, period. Obviously balistic stuff is high risk along with other extremes like trying to bench press 700lbs. The key to managing arthritis is recovery between workouts, period. If your joint is recovering you will last longer, if not then obviously you'll wear it out faster.

My surgery was semi-successful; I got the spurs removed but my range of motion didn't improve much. I can bench fine but I prefer the swiss bar so I can keep my elbows in tight to my body. I do a lot of suspension trainer pushups too.

I will have to get this surgery again a few years from now but my doctor told that there are amazing new cartilage treatments on the horizon.


at the very least try and get an MRI done so they can take a look at what is going on with the soft tissue structures in the joint. see whether there are bone spurs / what they look like, see whether there is damage to the cartilage. i don't know how a doc could say anything about whether surgery may or may not help without even properly assessing the problem.


Sorry to bump an old thread, but it came up in a google search for post-traumatic elbow arthritis and weightlifting. I was told today that I have this condition.

To cut a long story short, back in 2011 I dislocated my elbow and fractured my radial head. I had fairly extensive surgery to fix it. Ever since, I have experienced severe pain when trying to extend my elbow under load, and I also no longer have full extension (though that was expected as a common side effect of my injury). I am mostly troubled by the pain when working out, which has become very severe. I finally went back to my original doctor to see what was up. He took some x-rays and confirmed the post-traumatic arthritis diagnosis.

My doctor said he would not operate on my arm to remove the osteophytes since it would risk elbow stiffness afterward. Since I have a relatively good range of motion right now, he thinks it would not be worth the risk. Instead, I simply have to stop doing things which aggravate my arm - anything overhead, bench presses etc. This is very frustrating and upsetting.

I’m writing to ask if you have had any luck with treatment, and just to ask for any advice you might have. Thanks.


I have zero knowledge of elbows, but I can offer one observation that may or may not be of help.

People often assume that if x-rays show degenerative changes in joints that surgery is the only option. Someone in this thread made the point that physical therapy can’t help because it’s a hard, physical, bone restriction.

I would dispute this. In the case of shoulders and hips (where I’ve had impingement problems - so bone jamming against bone) it can be down to soft tissue. Simple muscle imbalances. Some of the muscles acting on and around the joint get too tight - others weak and lazy. The end result is that the joint is pulled out of it’s correct position and the bones jam against each other. Tight, over-active muscles can very easily cause pain and prevent full ROM. The degenerative changes in the joint could in theory be a result of the real problem - muscle imbalance.

Fix the muscle imbalance and the symptoms go away. You’ll still have worn joints, but does that matter? I know in the case of hips, shoulders it’s known that there is zero correlation between degenerative changes on mri and xray and symptoms. Some people have wrecked joints and no symptoms. Others have perfect joints and extreme pain!!

It makes sense to me to rule out the possible soft tissue causes of a problem prior to even thinking about surgery. The trouble is, the ‘experts’ in these matters are the surgeons. That’s who you’ll get referred to. They no nothing about soft tissue problems so it’s hardly a surprise that all that’s ever offered is surgery. A physio would probably send you to the expert - the surgeon!

If I were you I’d be learning a little more about the function of the muscles acting on and around the elbow joint. Looking into trigger point massage. Testing for weaknesses in these muscles. Stretching out the tight muscles. It can’t do any harm and there’s always a chance that this is all that’s needed.

[I was diagnosed with hip OA and according to the pros my active life was over. I also had bad shoulder impingement. Both down to muscle imbalance. 9 years on I’m doing great - no symptoms from the joints]


The reason the elbow is so tolerant of arthritis is because it is not a weight bearing joint. My hook for a right arm is a constant emotional drag but I can double my BW double overhand deadlifting if I’m really careful the traction feel great.


Hi, I also have the same condition in both of my elbows. The left elbow being worse than the right one. I think it mainly started with a bad fall while doing judo. And I injured both of them while working as a construction equipment mechanic. I continued to train judo, wrestling and lifting weights. I started to notice limited range of motion in my left elbow and grinding noises.

But no pain.About a year later I broke my ankle and was on crutches for a couple months. When I got off the crutches my arm was really stiff and noisey. I had it xrays and the result was severe arthritis. I really lost it after hearing that and that’s when I started to have pain. My range of motion was pretty bad and I lived with it for about 2 years. I couldn’t wrestle or box anymore and was pretty miserable. I could still lift weights but mostly light stuff. I’d try to wrestle now and then when I felt good and sometimes I’d get away with it and sometimes I’d be in pain for a month. A

About a year and a half ago I got surgery. I saw one doctor who had no interest in working on it. He didn’t even look at the xrays. The other doctor was positive about helping me out. I had an elbow arthroscopy done. The removed a giant 3/4 inch piece of cartilage that had broke of and grew inside of my elbow along with bone spurs and did a capsular release. I spent about 6 weeks in PT.I took about a year but at the moment I can pretty much do whatever I want. I have been wrestling and doing some boxing about three days a week.

I decided that I’m going to back off a bit on my training because I feel I’m overdoing it.I still lift but keep the weights pretty moderate. One of the key things I do is constant icing and stretching to try to maintain the range of motion. MY range of motion did improve but is still limited. In my opinion the surgery was life changing. It is a hard thing to deal with because I could probably train as much as I want.

But I have no idea what it will do in the long term. So I figure If I’m keeping them loose and I’m not in pain then I go ahead with what I want to do. Actually I have felt better kind of pushing the pace. I also take a few supplements that I feel help. GLC 2000 Glucosimine, Great lakes Collagen powder, Swansons sam E. I have stopped all caffine and tobacco use. I eat a very healthy diet with lots of pineapple and kale. I also tried an injectable glucosimine called Alflutop and will probably do it again.

Doing alot of cardio seems to help as well. The thing is that I love to train. But I also need to work, cut wood, work on my truck, shoot my bow and not be miserable all the time. So its a big balancing act.


A big contributor to my right elbow arthritis is my torn left pec which has/does compel me to push lopsided. However I do stretch nearly everyday by leaning on the arm rest on my car and stretching extension with dumbbells on my couch and hanging one handed from a pull up bar. When I slack I soon notice a range of motion change. I can work out almost as hard as a healthy elbow but my hard impact bag work days are over. BJJ can be a pain in the ass but I’ve adjusted in many ways.


Hi I realize this is an old post but I found it searching for what I am going through right now. I had a freak elbow injury when I was 11 on the joint, and it never healed properly or regained full range of motion especially with extension. From there I developed bony spurs, OA, and loose bodies in the joint. By Oct 2013 it got so bad, my elbow locked up and swelled up like a leg, I was put on cortisone, got a bit better and had surgery in December 2013. I have pictures that look identical to the ones you posted. Removed a lot of loose bodies, shaved down bone and cleaned out the joint in general. So it has been a few months past 3 years now, I know i barely have any joint space left, and there is fluid around the joint to compensate for the lack of actual joint space fluid (seen with ultrasound).

Anyway, I have been actively lifting, working out since 07, and continue to now. I was told that exercise is one of the best things you can do with OA. Extension wise I’m almost at full ROM. The thing is obviously there is some stiffness and annoying pains at times, especially when I’m applying pressure like pressing with my fingers or washing something. I know that a lot of pain and general uncomfortableness is caused by build up of scarred tissue around the joint and along the muscle fascia. So I’ve been doing a lot of work on that which has relieved the size of the joint and a lot of pain as well (with PT and at home with crochet ball- rolling along fascia and scarred tissue clumps). I am strict with my workout regimen, try to keep strict form with all my movements and stay at 15- 20 rep range for everything (except legs). I’m wondering how much longevity I can expect with my elbow and with the continuing to workout the way I do.

@JRT6 - How is your situation now for you, and can you give me any advice as to what I can reasonably expect? I guess what I’m looking for is for someone who has dealt with the same stuff, and hope that I can have long term good quality and longevity with my elbow.


Things are good. I never got any range of motion back and I’m in constant fear of losing more.but my elbow is really stong and rarely hurts. My orher elbow is starting to lose ROM and that one hurts.

I pretty much just stay away from anything where the elbow had to work far away from my body pushing wise. I.have started to do ring extensions but that is really the extent of that

No more really big weights (subjective and relative of course) and I try to.make less weight harder. I keep the volume low.

When I do hinge exercises I always use a double overhand grip and NEVER get to the point where the rep is so hard my.bicep is being pried on my thigh. The traction from pulling feels amazing and helps strengthen that vulnerable biceps tendons.


I’m 3 years post op. I train wrestling, jujitsu, and boxing around 5 days a
week. I also lift 2x a week and run. I also bow hunt. My elbows don’t have
full range of motion. And there are certain things I avoid. But the
durability of my elbows has greatly improved. I eat a very healthy diet
meat, veg, fruit, nuts, clean carbs and a gallon of water a day. I take a
bunch of supplements as well. GLC 2000 glucosimine, Swansons joint health
mix with fortigel, swansons sam-e, swansons msm powder, swansons Avo-vida,
swansons sulforaphane. I also cycle Beta-Ecdysterone and ostarine. I get
regular massages on my elbows. I also take a 10 pound dumbell with a rope
and hang it off my wrist. While I lay my arm horizontally on a flat surface
for 5 minutes every day.


Oh, my range of motion has also improved. Mainly with the elbow flexion.
Let me know if you need anymore info.