Swollen, Painful Elbow? It May Be Elbow Bursitis

Elbow Bursitis

One of the most common forms of bursitis is known as olecranon bursitis, or elbow bursitis. Swelling in the elbow is typically the first sign that you may be suffering from elbow bursitis.

Because no two elbows are alike, our team of board certified and board eligible elbow surgeons will develop an individualized treatment plan to address the specific cause of bursitis and provide guidance through your recovery.

What is Elbow Bursitis?

Elbow bursitis is a condition involving the olecranon bursa of the elbow. Bursitis occurs when the bursae (small, fluid-filled sacs that act as cushions between bones and tissues in the shoulder) become inflamed and swell.

The area between your skin and the pointy bone, known as the olecranon, on the back of the elbow is where elbow bursitis develops. This is where the olecranon bursa is located. Excessive fluid builds up in the olecranon bursa when it is irritated, and that is when bursitis happens.

What Causes Elbow Bursitis?

There are quite a few things that can contribute to the development of bursitis. Repetitive pressure on the elbow and trauma are two common culprits. Some people develop elbow bursitis from leaning their elbow on hard surfaces for extended periods of time. Because of this, the condition sometimes goes by the nickname ‘student’s elbow’.

Elbow bursitis from repetitive leaning on the elbow or supporting the body with elbows does not happen suddenly- it typically develops gradually over a period of several months.

If you’ve experienced an injury to the elbow, bursitis may also develop. The impact from a fall or blow to the elbow can cause the bursa to fill with fluid or become inflamed.

Infection can also play a role. If you’ve suffered an injury to the elbow in which your skin was broken or punctured, the bursa may be susceptible to bacteria. When the bursa comes in contact with bacteria, it swells, fills with fluid and often turns red.

People living with conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or gout are at a higher risk of developing elbow bursitis.

What are the Symptoms?

  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Tenderness
  • Difficulty extending the arm/minimized range of motion
  • Redness and warmth as a result of infection

What Treatment is Available?
Nonsurgical and surgical treatments are available for elbow bursitis.

One of our elbow specialists may perform a fluid removal if you are showing signs of bursitis caused by infection. Should you have an infection, antibiotics or other medication may be prescribed. When an infection does not respond to antibiotics or fluid removal, surgery to remove the infected bursa may be necessary. In some instances, surgery for a non-infected bursa may be recommended.

For cases that do not involve infection, one of our specialists may recommend modifying your activity levels, anti-inflammatory medication and the RICE method (rest, ice, compression and elevation). When swelling and other symptoms persist, corticosteroid injections may be used as a next step to stop pain and swelling.

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms above, do not hesitate to contact us to schedule a visit with one of our elbow surgeons. As with most conditions, particularly in the event of infection, it is best to seek medical attention as quickly as possible.


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Trusted Elbow Bursitis Resources

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons – Elbow (Olecranon) Bursitis

American Society for Surgery of the Hand – Olecranon Bursitis