I would prefer to avoid surgery for my elbow arthritis. What steps can I take to deal with my symptoms short of surgery?

The goal of conservative treatment is to help you manage your pain and use your elbow without causing more harm. Your doctor may recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen, to help control swelling and pain. Other treatments, such as heat, may also be used to control your pain.

Rehabilitation services, such as physical and occupational therapy, have a critical role in the treatment plan for elbow osteoarthritis. The main goal of therapy is to help you learn how to control symptoms and maximize the health of your elbow. You'll learn ways to calm your pain and symptoms. You may use rest, heat, or topical rubs.

You may be issued a special elbow splint to immobilize and protect the elbow. Resting the joint can help ease pain and inflammation. Range-of-motion and stretching exercises can improve your elbow motion. Strengthening exercises for the arm help steady the elbow and protect the joint from shock and stress. Your therapist will give you tips on how to get your tasks done with less strain on the joint.

To get rid of your pain, you may also need to limit your activities. You may even need to change jobs, if your work requires heavy, repetitive motions with the hand and wrist.

An injection of cortisone into the joint can give temporary relief. Cortisone is a powerful anti-inflammatory medication. It can very effectively relieve pain and swelling. Its effects are temporary, usually lasting several weeks to months. There is a small risk of infection with any injection into the joint, and cortisone injections are no exception.