Many forms of arthritis and related conditions that affect the joints, muscles and/or bones can cause problems like pain, stiffness and swelling in the elbows. Here are some diseases that can affect the elbows.

  • Osteoarthritis (OA). The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis is a chronic condition characterized by the breakdown of the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones where they meet to form joints. This breakdown causes the bones to rub against each other, causing stiffness, pain and loss of movement in the joint. While osteoarthritis can affect the elbow, it is more common in weight-bearing joints, such as the knee and hip. Elbow OA is often the result of overuse or an injury.

Learn more about osteoarthritis.

Experts answer your questions about osteoarthritis.

Learn more about osteoarthritis of the elbow from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the joints that occurs when body’s immune system – which normally protects from us from infection – mistakenly attacks the synovium, the thin membrane that lines the joints. The result can be joint damage, pain, swelling, inflammation, loss of function and disability. Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common type of arthritis in the elbow. The joint involvement of rheumatoid arthritis is symmetrical. That means if one elbow is affected the other likely will be, too.

Learn more about rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Juvenile arthritis (JA). Juvenile arthritis is the term used to describe arthritis when it begins before age 16. There are several different types of juvenile arthritis, characterized by pain, swelling and potentially joint destruction. The oligoarticular form of juvenile arthritis commonly affects elbows.

Read more about juvenile arthritis.

  • Gout. Gout is a form of arthritis that occurs when excess uric acid, a bodily waste product circulating in the bloodstream, is deposited as needle-shaped monosodium urate crystals in tissues of the body, including the joints. For many people, the first symptom of gout is excruciating pain and swelling in the big toe – often following a trauma, such as an illness or injury. Subsequent attacks may occur off and on in other joints, typically the feet, ankles, hands, wrists, elbows and knees.

Learn more about gout.

  • Calcium pyrophosphate dihydrate crystal deposition disease (pseudogout).  Like gout, pseudogout occurs when crystals form within the joints. With pseudogout, however, the crystals are formed from a salt called calcium pyrophosphate dihydrate. Although pseudogout occurs mostly in older people, it can affect younger people, particularly if they have other health problems. And like gout, pseudogout can cause intense pain and swelling, which often comes during the night. Pseudogout typically affects a single joint. The joints most likely to be involved are the knees, ankles, shoulders, elbows and wrists.

Learn more about pseudogout.

  • Psoriatic arthritis. Psoriatic arthritis is form of arthritis accompanied by the skin disease psoriasis. The skin disease often precedes the arthritis; in a small percentage the joint disease develops before the skin disease.  Psoriatic arthritis can cause inflammation of the elbow joint itself and a scaling skin rash over the elbow.

Learn more about psoriatic arthritis. 

  • Reactive arthritis. Reactive arthritis is a chronic form of arthritis that often occurs following an infection of the genital, urinary or gastrointestinal system. Features of reactive arthritis include inflammation and swelling of the joints, eyes and structures within the gastrointestinal or genitourinary tracts, such as intestines, kidneys or bladder. Although the ankles, knees and joints of the feet often are the first joints affected by reactive arthritis, the elbow is the upper-extremity joint most commonly affected by the condition.

The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases answers your questions about reactive arthritis.