Psoriasis can affect any part of the body, including the elbows. As the elbows can easily become dry and cracked, people may need to use particularly strong topical treatments.

Psoriasis is a skin condition affecting approximately 3% of the population of the United States. It causes skin patches with silvery scales that may be itchy and inflamed.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the patches most commonly occur on the elbows, knees, scalp, lower back, face, palms, and soles of the feet.

Read on to learn about elbow psoriasis, its causes, treatment options, dealing with flare-ups, and more.

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Elbow psoriasis is a form of psoriasis that is present on one or both elbows.

There are several different types of psoriasis. They include:

Although elbow psoriasis can be any type, it is usually plaque psoriasis. This is the most common form, making up about 80% of cases.

According to research, psoriasis typically affects both sides of the body in a symmetrical pattern. This means a person with elbow psoriasis will likely have it on both the right and left elbow.

Some of the symptoms of plaque psoriasis include:

  • raised, inflamed, and discolored patches of skin
  • silvery scales
  • itchy and painful skin patches
  • smaller plaques joining together to form larger ones
  • nail discoloration, pitting, or separation from the nail bed

In individuals with light skin tones, the lesions may appear red. In those with darker skin tones, the skin patches may appear purple or dark brown.

Research states that individuals with the condition may also experience depression, isolation, and social withdrawal due to their condition. A 2021 study reports that visible nail changes are common in those with plaque psoriasis.

Scientists do not know the exact cause of psoriasis. However, they know it occurs due to a problem within the immune system. The immune system causes skin cells to develop more rapidly than usual, resulting in a buildup of underdeveloped cells that sit on the surface of the skin.

Certain events may trigger a person’s psoriasis to become worse. This is called a flare-up.

Some possible triggers include:

  • stress
  • skin injury, including cuts, scrapes, sunburn, or insect bites
  • illnesses and infections
  • cold weather
  • allergies
  • certain foods
  • alcohol
  • smoking
  • hormone changes

Learn more about psoriasis triggers.

There are various treatments a person can try for elbow psoriasis.

Topicals

Topicals are creams that a person can apply directly to the affected parts of the skin. While some are available over the counter, others require a prescription from a doctor.

These creams can reduce or slow cell reproduction and help target psoriasis symptoms.

Sometimes, a doctor may prescribe a topical steroid. These are strong formulas that can reduce inflammation and control the psoriasis plaques. However, they are usually only used for a short period due to the risk of side effects.

Phototherapy

This is a light therapy where the affected skin is exposed to ultraviolet light. As with topicals, this can reduce the reproduction of skin cells and decrease inflammation, pain, and the urge to itch.

A healthcare professional will usually supervise phototherapy.

Systemics

Systemics are drugs a person will receive either orally as a pill or liquid, via an injection, or through an intravenous (IV) infusion. Systemics can target the immune cells and reduce the reproduction of cells.

One common type of systemic is a biologic. These target specific areas of the immune system and block the cells responsible for overactive skin cell reproduction.

A healthcare professional may prescribe systemic drugs alongside topical and phototherapy treatment.

For more articles and science-backed resources, visit our psoriasis hub.

People should contact a doctor as soon as they experience any psoriasis symptoms on their elbows. A primary care doctor may refer them to a specialized skin doctor or a dermatologist.

Individuals may also wish to seek a doctor’s advice when experiencing a psoriasis flare-up, particularly if current treatments do not help manage symptoms.

Elbow psoriasis is most likely to be a form of the condition known as plaque psoriasis. A person will experience raised, painful, and itchy patches on the skin that are either red or purple.

This type of psoriasis works symmetrically, so the condition will likely affect both elbows.

People should contact a doctor as soon as they notice psoriasis symptoms on their elbows or any other part of their body.