Elbow Bursitis

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Elbow bursitis is a painful condition that can be felt on the tip of your elbow. In this article, we’ll discuss what elbow bursitis is, its causes, symptoms, identification, treatment, and how to reduce the risk of developing this condition.

At JIS Orthopedics, we have a team of experienced orthopedic surgeons who specialize in elbow conditions. If you need expert care and treatment, don’t hesitate to contact us. We have locations in New Albany and St. Clairsville, OH, where our dedicated team is ready to assist you in your recovery.

What is Elbow Bursitis

Elbow bursitis (also known as elbow olecranon bursitis) is a condition that affects the olecranon bursa, a small fluid-filled sac located at the tip of the elbow bone. The elbow bursa is found between the skin and the bony tip of the elbow. It acts like a cushion for the soft tissues in the elbow joint, reducing friction during elbow movements. When the bursa becomes inflamed, it leads to elbow bursitis.

Causes of Elbow Bursitis

Elbow bursitis can be caused by various factors, including trauma or direct pressure to the elbow, such as from a hard blow or prolonged pressure on the joint. In some cases, the bursa can become infected, leading to infected bursitis. Medical conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and gout can also contribute to the development of elbow bursitis.

What Are the Symptoms of Elbow Bursitis?

The following symptoms may indicate elbow bursitis:

  • Pain at the elbow
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness at the back of the elbow
  • Visible bump the size of a small golf ball
  • Warm elbow
  • Limited range of motion

Who Does Elbow Bursitis Affect and How Common Is It?

Elbow bursitis can affect any individual. However, certain factors may increase your chances of developing it, including:

  • You lean on your elbows frequently
  • Perform repetitive elbow movements in sports or other hobbies
  • You have a medical condition, such as arthritis, thyroid disease, or diabetes

How is Elbow Bursitis Identified?

To diagnose elbow bursitis, an orthopedic surgeon or healthcare professional will perform a physical examination and review your medical history. They may also extract a fluid sample from the affected area to check for signs of infection. 

Imaging tests like X-rays may be used to look for a bone spur or foreign body. Bone spurs are common in repeated cases of elbow bursitis.

Elbow Bursitis Treatment

Treatment for elbow bursitis will depend on the cause. Some of the causes and treatments for bursitis are mentioned below.

Bursitis Caused by Infection

If your doctor suspects that bursitis is caused by an infection, they may recommend a procedure called aspiration. This procedure involves using a needle to remove the excess fluid from the affected bursa. This procedure is typically performed in a clinical setting.

Removing the fluid serves two purposes:

  • Alleviates your symptoms
  • Provides a sample to determine which antibiotic is necessary to combat the infection

Your doctor might prescribe antibiotics as a precautionary measure even before the infection is identified.

Bursitis Not Caused by Infection

If the bursitis is not associated with an infection, there are several management options available:

  • Wearing Elbow Pads: You may use an elbow pad to cushion and protect your affected elbow.
  • Activity Modification: It’s advisable to avoid activities that exert direct pressure on the swollen elbow.
  • Medications: Your doctor might recommend oral medications such as ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatories to reduce swelling and relieve pain.

If the swelling and pain persist despite these initial measures for 3 to 6 weeks, your physician may suggest a procedure to remove fluid from the bursa and administer a corticosteroid injection into the affected area.

Surgery for an Infected Bursa

Surgical intervention may be necessary if the infection does not respond to antibiotics or fluid removal. This outpatient procedure involves the complete removal of the affected bursa.

Surgery may also be complemented by the continued use of oral or intravenous antibiotics. Over the course of several months, the bursa regenerates, returning to a non-inflamed, fully functional state.

Surgery for a Non-Infected Bursa

Surgery may also be recommended when bursitis is not linked to an infection. This is also an outpatient procedure. The procedure does not disrupt any muscle, ligament, or joint structures.

How to Reduce the Risk of Elbow Bursitis

The most effective method for preventing elbow bursitis is to minimize excessive strain on your elbow.

Allow your body sufficient time to rest between rigorous exercises or activities. If your occupation or recreational activities require the use of your elbows, it’s important to use appropriate protective gear, such as the use of elbow pads.

Get Elbow Bursitis Treatment

At JIS Orthopedics, we have a team of experienced orthopedic surgeons who specialize in elbow conditions. If you need expert care and treatment, don’t hesitate to contact us. We have locations in New Albany and St. Clairsville, OH, where our dedicated team is ready to assist you in your journey to recovery.

Medically reviewed by AJ Julka, MD

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