Bursitis of the Elbow - Causes and Treatments

What Is Bursitis of the Elbow?
The elbow contains a slippery, fluid filled sac called the bursa to help the skin slide over the bone in that area. The olecranon bursa covers the olecranon process (the extension of the ulna that fits into the humerus). It lies between the skin of the elbow and the bones of the forearm.

Causes of Bursitis of the Elbow
Normally, the bursa acts as a cushion between the skin and the bone.

But if the elbow is hit, or if it is constantly irritated, the bursa can become inflamed and fill with fluid. This is called bursitis. The bursa starts to swell, and may create a lump over the end of the elbow. Gradual swelling indicates a chronic or long-lasting condition, while sudden swelling may signal a traumatic injury or an infection in the elbow. Red and hot skin may indicate an infection. Motion in the elbow may be limited, especially if there was a traumatic impact to the elbow.

Treatment of Bursitis of the Elbow
Generally, R.I.C.E. is the first line of treatment for bursitis.

  • Rest: Take a break from whatever activity is causing the elbow to swell or become painful.
  • Ice: Apply ice packs for short periods of time (15 to 20 minutes, three or four times a day).
  • Compression: Wrap an elastic bandage around the elbow to keep swelling down.
  • Elevation: Elevate the elbow above the level of your heart.

    Usually, bursitis will resolve on its own. Often you are left ​with a bursa sac that has stretched and is too large for the space it now occupies. The sac may develop wrinkles that over time, will harden.

    If the bursitis swelling comes on suddenly or if you experienced a direct blow to the elbow, see your physician right away, as you may need X-rays to rule out the possibility of a fracture.

    Depending upon the cause of the swelling, you doctor may recommend aspirating, or draining, the bursa. The fluid from the bursa is removed with a syringe. An anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen can help reduce pain and swelling. An elbow protector or padding can help reduce the risk of further injury.

    Cortisone injections may be used to treat bursitis, as surgery, as a final option to remove the bursa.

    Back to Elbow Injuries

    Continue Reading