Elbow Bursitis

The elbow is small, but it can be painful when it becomes inflamed. Elbow bursitis can result from a fall or a blow to the elbow, or it can be caused by infection or rheumatoid diseases.

Olecranon bursitis is an inflammatory condition of the elbow. The olecranon is the prominent bony bump on the end of your elbow joint. A small fluid-filled sac called a bursa serves as a cushion between this bone and surrounding tissues. When these bursae, found throughout the body, become irritated, the condition is known as bursitis.

Olecranon bursitis can be caused by:

  • falling on the elbow
  • a blow to the elbow by an object or another person
  • rubbing the elbow on a desk, armrest or other rigid surface
  • activities that place prolonged pressure on the elbow
  • infection
  • rheumatoid diseases.

You will have some pain and swelling, which may make it uncomfortable to move your elbow. The skin over the area may feel warm or appear discolored.

Your doctor will ask for background information about your condition. The affected elbow will be examined and you may be asked to move the joint. Blood tests and X-rays may be ordered to obtain further information. Your doctor may also test for infection by removing fluid from the bursa with a needle and syringe.

Conservative treatment usually includes a period of rest and immobilization. Ice packs may be used three to four times a day (15 to 20 minutes at a time) to control pain and swelling. Anti-inflammatory medications can provide additional relief. Elevating the affected arm will promote the movement of fluid out of the joint.

Further treatment may be needed if the condition persists. Your doctor can remove excess fluid from the bursa with a syringe. You might need a compression bandage to prevent fluid build-up from returning, and a splint to limit elbow movement. Your doctor may also recommend cortisone injections to reduce pain and swelling. Surgical removal of the bursa is the final option for the most severe cases of olecranon bursitis.

You may be referred for physical or occupational therapy during your rehabilitation. This will help you return to regular activities and regain strength and flexibility. It is important to follow the instructions given by your doctor and therapist to ensure rapid healing.

Long-term Outlook
Recovery will vary depending on the severity of your condition, your age and overall health. Generally, the joint will return to normal in about 3 to 6 weeks. If surgery is needed, you will probably have a slightly longer recuperation period.