Your elbow joint contains a fluid-filled sac called a bursa that acts as a cushion between your skin and the bony tip of the elbow (olecranon). Elbow bursitis, or olecranon bursitis, develops when the bursa – becomes irritated or inflamed.
This typically happens due to trauma, such as a hard blow to the tip of the elbow, or from prolonged pressure, such as leaning on your elbow on a hard surface for long periods of time. This type of impact or pressure can cause the bursa to swell and become painful.
Bacterial infection from a break in the skin at the elbow, as well as medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout, can also lead to elbow bursitis.
The orthopedic doctors at the Center for Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine in San Antonio are experts at diagnosing and treating elbow bursitis. Learn more about the condition below.
Olecranon Bursitis Symptoms
Swelling is often the first symptom of bursitis in the elbow. The skin on the back of the elbow is loose, so you may not notice small amounts of swelling right away. As the swelling continues, the bursa gets larger. This causes pain as the bursa is stretched, since the bursa contains nerve endings. The swelling may get large enough to restrict motion in the elbow.
If the bursitis is infected, the skin becomes red and warm. If the infection is not treated right away, it may spread to other parts of the arm or move into the bloodstream. This can cause serious illness.
See your doctor to diagnose elbow bursitis. You may need an X-ray so the doctor can look for a foreign body or a bone spur. Bone spurs are often found on the tip of the bone in the elbow in patients who have recurrent problems with elbow bursitis.
Elbow Bursitis Treatment Options
If your bursitis is caused by an infection, your doctor will likely remove (aspirate) the fluid, a procedure we perform in our office. Removing the fluid will help relieve your bursitis symptoms and indicate whether bacteria is present so the doctor can prescribe an antibiotic to treat the infection.
If the bursitis is not due to an infection, it may be treated with RICE – rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatories may also be helpful.
If these measures don’t reduce the pain and swelling, your doctor may want to aspirate and inject a corticosteroid medication into the bursa. The steroid injection is an anti-inflammatory more powerful than the oral medication.
An infected bursa that doesn’t respond to antibiotics or improves with the draining of fluid from the elbow may require outpatient surgery to remove the bursa.
If you suspect you have elbow bursitis, call the Center for Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine in San Antonio today at (210) 692-7400, or you can request an appointment online.