Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that is progressive and can be caused by an over-the-counter immune system. The body has smaller joints as well as larger ones. The elbow is where it develops when there is involvement of smaller joints.

The immune system protects the body. The immune system in RA is malfunctioning due to cases of stimulating the production of antibodies that attack the lining of healthy joints.

There are two types of RA: Seropositive and seronegative. About 60% to 80% of people have seropositive RA, which means their blood will show unusually high levels of antibodies called anti-cyclic citrullinated peptides (anti-CCPs).

“If you have a disease like RA, you won’t have these antibodies in your blood. Some people with RA may have a different marker in their blood.”

If RA is affecting your elbow, this will usually be symmetrical. This means it affects both the right and left arms in about 20% to 65% of people living with RA.

Rheumatoid arthritis can gradually damage or destroy tissue. It primarily causes inflammation and swelling in the joint lining of the elbow. Some people even develop a noticeable bulge near their elbow where the inflamed joint lining has pushed out.

Elbow pain can start in the early stages of the disease. The body becomes affected as the disease progresses. The lining in the hips, knees, and hands is included.

Uncontrolled inflammation in the elbow may also cause cartilage and bone destruction, as well as bursitis, which is the inflammation of the small, fluid-filled sacs that cushion the bone. Severe swelling in the elbow can also lead to nerve compression.

Mobility can be affected by the elbow inflammation. You may have periods of instability or your elbow joints may lock in place. This is when the elbow joint is giving out.

Elbow pain can be felt on the outer side of the joint. You may have pain that affects sleep.

Joint stiffness is another symptom of rheumatoid arthritis in the elbow. The risk of stiffness is greater when arthritis develops after an elbow injury.

What does rheumatoid arthritis in the elbow feel like?

Pain from rheumatoid arthritis in the elbow is often symmetrical and best described as a dull ache or throbbing pain.

In the beginning stages, you may have intermittent pain that comes and goes, or you may only feel pain with certain movements like bending your elbow.

As your disease progresses, elbow pain can become persistent or even cause you to feel uncomfortable.

Pain from an injury is similar to pain from an injury. Pain can be short term and gradually improve with an injury. It does not improve on its own. If left unaddressed, pain can become worse.

The elbow may feel worse in the morning.

If you have nerve compression, you may get pins and needles in your elbow. You might have a partial or complete numbness in your arm.

What are elbow nodules?

Along with pain, you may also develop rheumatoid nodules. These are firm, tender lumps that form under the skin that are not bound to any tissue or bone. They’re typically associated with rheumatoid arthritis in the hands, feet, and elbows.

They are considered a type of small-vessel vasculitis when first forming. Inflammation will accumulate around the area. As the disease progresses, more nodules can occur on the surface where the elbow rests on a chair.

Nodules are typically circular in shape. These lump form during a flare-up. They are also associated with a more severe disease type. They can make it difficult to use the arm.

Up to 20% of people with RA develop nodules. The exact cause of these lumps is unknown, but they tend to occur in smokers, people with a severe form of the disease, and those with other inflammatory conditions.

If you have symmetrical elbow pain, your doctor may test for RA. Elbow pain is a symptom of this disease.

Your doctor will likely perform a physical exam. This involves checking your elbow for signs of swelling and tenderness. Your doctor will also move your elbow in different directions to gauge your range of motion.

There is no single medical test that can diagnose RA. A blood test can help confirm or rule out the disease. Joint damage in your elbow can be seen with the help of various diagnostic tests.

Depending on the severity of your condition, your medical treatment may include non- surgical options.

Rheumatoid arthritis in the elbow can be treated with non-surgical treatments.


Medication options include:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can block inflammation and reduce swelling. These medications provide short-term relief and include naproxen sodium (Aleve) or ibuprofen (Motrin). Topicals containing this type of medication are also available.
  • Corticosteroids: Steroids can be taken orally or by injection into the elbow, effectively reducing pain and inflammation. A doctor needs to prescribe oral steroids. These are used sparingly due to potential side effects. The doctor may use a pulsed ultrasound to help the steroids penetrate deeper into the tissue around the joint.
  • DMARDs: Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) block inflammation of the joints.
  • Biologics: These medications target specific parts of the immune system that lead to inflammation.

A doctor may use Iontophoresis, in which an electrically charged liquid helps get medication through the person’s skin into the joint.

Other remedies

Other remedies to help relieve joint pressure and stop pain include:

  • applying cold or heat therapy for pain and swelling, respectively
  • For periods, wearing an elbow splint.
  • Avoid activities that cause symptoms.
  • Physical therapy.
  • occupational therapy
  • The elbow joint can be over-used.


Permanent joint damage can be caused by chronic inflammation. If this happens, your doctor may recommend surgery. There are surgical procedures.

  • The elbow has tissue lining that is inflammation.
  • There are bone spurs or loose fragments around the elbow.
  • The bone is removed to ease joint pressure.
  • A total joint replacement.

Here you will find more answers to common questions about arthritis in the elbow.

What are some rheumatoid arthritis elbow exercises?

There are different exercises a person can do to help manage RA symptoms in the elbow. Examples include elbow bends, flexes, turns, and lifts. Depending on the severity of symptoms, a person may be able to use weights.

There are exercises for the elbow.

How do I know my elbow pain is serious?

“The elbow can be damaged by RA. If you have unexplained elbow pain that doesn’t improve, you should see a doctor. If you have a diagnosis of the elbow, you should schedule a doctor’s appointment. Your doctor may need to change your therapy to better control inflammation.”

Can you reverse arthritis in your elbow?

Treatment can reduce inflammation, swelling, and stiffness in the elbow, but it cannot cure the elbow condition. The goal of treatment is to slow the progression of the disease.

The pain in the elbow is typical. It is possible to reduce inflammation and symptoms with treatment, but there is no cure.

It may not be possible to improve pain on its own. Discuss your treatment plan with your doctor. You can achieve remission if you treat the condition sooner.