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Elbow Bursitis

What is elbow bursitis?

A bursa is a fluid-filled sac that acts as a cushion between tendons, bones, and skin. Irritation or inflammation of a bursa is called bursitis. The point of the elbow is called the olecranon. Pain or swelling at the point of the elbow is called olecranon bursitis, or elbow bursitis.

How does it occur?

Repeated injury, such as falling onto the elbow or rubbing the elbow against a hard surface, irritates the bursa.

What are the symptoms?

The bursa at the point of the elbow is swollen. This swelling may be painful. It may hurt to bend and straighten your elbow. There may be warmth and redness. Sometimes the fluid inside the bursa can get infected.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will review your symptoms and examine your elbow.

How is it treated?

To treat this condition:

  • Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables, wrapped in a cloth on the area every 3 to 4 hours, for up to 20 minutes at a time.
  • Wrap an elastic bandage around your elbow to keep the bursa from swelling more.
  • Protect your elbow with a pad.
  • Take an anti-inflammatory medicine such as ibuprofen, or other medicine as directed by your provider. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, do not take for more than 10 days.

Your provider may remove some of the bursa fluid with a needle and syringe. In some cases, ongoing (chronic) bursitis may require surgical removal of the bursa.

How long will the effects last?

The length of recovery depends on many factors such as your age, health, and if you have had a previous injury. Recovery time also depends on the severity of the injury. The pain is usually gone within a few weeks, but there may be swelling for up to several months. Ask your healthcare provider when you can return to your normal activities.

How can I prevent it?

Elbow bursitis can be best prevented by avoiding direct contact to the point of your elbow. It is important not to irritate the bursa by leaning your elbow onto a surface such as a table or a desk.

Written by Pierre Rouzier, MD, for RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-02-09
Last reviewed: 2009-12-28
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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