Elbow Bursitis: Causes, Signs & Treatment | Resurgens Orthopaedics

Elbow Bursitis (Olecranon Bursitis)

Elbow bursitis — sometimes known as Popeye elbow — occurs because of swelling in the bursa. When the bursa becomes irritated, the ordinarily flat bursa bulges out and becomes visible.

What You Need To Know About Elbow Bursitis

What is Elbow Bursitis?

Bursa are fluid-filled sacs that cushion bony protrusions like the elbow or knee from damage. Your body has many bursae throughout it. Typically, you do not notice your bursa because it lays flat between your bone and skin.

However, repeated motion can cause your bursa to fill with an abundance of fluid. When this occurs in your elbow, it is known as elbow bursitis. If your olecranon (elbow bone) bursa experiences a lot of irritation or overuse, it may cause the bursa to thicken with fluid. The fluid accumulation may cause the bursa to pucker out, so it sometimes has the nickname "popeye elbow". People experiencing olecranon bursitis may or may not feel pain.

Finding the right physician for your elbow bursitis treatment starts with visiting Resurgens Orthopaedics.

Schedule an appointment at one of our Metro Atlanta locations now!

What Causes Elbow Bursitis?

There are several causes of olecranon bursitis, including:

Trauma: A hard bump to the elbow can cause bleeding into the bursa.

Many different circumstances can cause elbow bursitis. For example, a sudden impact on the elbow can cause the bursa to swell. However, you can also damage the bursa by placing pressure on it over long periods. For example, if your job requires you to crawl or lean on your elbows, you may be at risk of developing elbow bursitis. Similarly, some athletic activities like golf or tennis may cause olecranon bursitis to develop.

Prolonged pressure: Leaning on the elbow for prolonged periods on a hard surface can cause the bursa to swell.

Infection: A break in the skin over the bursa (abrasion, insect bite, puncture) can allow bacteria to enter. Approximately 20% of cases have an infectious cause, a condition known as septic bursitis elbow.

Medical conditions: Rheumatoid arthritis and gout are associated with elbow bursitis.

Elbow Bursitis Symptoms

Symptoms of olecranon bursitis may include:

  • Swelling. The first symptom of elbow bursitis is often swelling. The skin on the back of the elbow is loose, which means that a small amount of swelling may not be noticed right away.
  • Pain. As the swelling continues, the bursa begins to stretch, which causes pain. The pain often worsens with direct pressure on the elbow or with bending the elbow. The swelling may grow large enough to restrict elbow motion.
  • Redness and warm to the touch. If the bursa 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. Occasionally, an infected bursa will open spontaneously and drain pus.

The most common symptom is swelling at the tip of the elbow. Sometimes, people report pain at the back of the elbow and restricted movement or stiffness. Pain is made worse by direct pressure at the back of the elbow.

How is Elbow Bursitis Diagnosed?

Finding the best type of olecranon bursitis treatment starts with visiting Resurgens Orthopaedics. During your visit one of our physicians will assess your condition and perform a quick elbow exam. They will ask you about your family history and see if you've experienced any injuries to the elbow. If pain accompanies your elbow bursitis symptom, you may experience mild irritation during the exam.

After your physician has completed your physical screening, they will order diagnostic tests. Diagnostic technology like x-rays and MRIs help identify the root cause of your swollen elbow pain. Because gout is linked to elbow bursitis, we may order blood tests or test the fluid of your bursa.

Your physician will use the information from these tests to plan your elbow bursitis treatment.

Elbow Bursitis Treatment

Resurgens Orthopaedics offers surgical and non-surgical options for olecranon bursitis pain relief.

Non Surgical Options

Many people will find relief with RICE therapy and not using the affected elbow. Icing the affected elbow for 20 minutes a few times a day can help decrease swelling. Wearing a pad over the elbow may reduce the effect of direct pressure on the bursa.

Some non-surgical elbow bursitis treatment options include:

  • Activity modification with avoidance of resting on the elbow
  • Elbow pads
  • The use of over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication
  • Aspiration of fluid to drain bursa and rule out septic bursitis elbow
  • Cortisone injection

  • Surgical Treatment

    For people who need more severe intervention surgical treatment may be needed. While surgery is rare, it is not unheard of to require surgical treatment. Your doctor may recommend surgery if your symptoms haven't responded to non-surgical treatment and if medication like antibiotics isn't helping.

    Surgical removal of your bursa is done as an outpatient procedure. After your surgery, you will need about a month to resume normal activities.

    Elbow bursitis is a serious condition that can interfere with your quality of life. Schedule an appointment with Resurgens Orthopaedics today to learn more about our innovative approach to elbow bursitis treatment.

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