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Elbow (Olecranon) Bursitis

Anatomy of the Olecranon

The elbow contains a large, curved, boney prominence at the back called the olecranon. This prominence is covered by the olecranon bursa, a small fluid-filled sac that allows smooth movement between the bone and the overlying skin.

What is Elbow Bursitis?

Inflammation of the olecranon bursa leads to a condition called olecranon bursitis.

Causes of Elbow Bursitis

The causes of elbow bursitis may include trauma or a hard blow on the elbow, excessive leaning on the elbow, infection by puncture wounds or insect bites, or conditions such as gout and rheumatoid arthritis. People in certain occupations such as plumbing or air conditioning, which involve a lot of crawling on the elbows, are highly prone to this condition.

Symptoms of Elbow Bursitis

Swelling is the first sign of elbow bursitis. As more and more liquid fills into the bursa, the swelling increases and may cause pain. This pain is generally mild but can increase with direct pressure or bending of the elbow. If the bursa gets infected, your skin can become warm and red and may spread to other parts of the arm or even enter the bloodstream if not treated.

Diagnosis of Elbow Bursitis

Elbow bursitis can be diagnosed by reviewing your medical history and undergoing a thorough physical exam. Your doctor may also order an X-ray.

Treatment Options for Elbow Bursitis

If bursitis is caused due to an infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. Elbow bursitis not caused by infection can be treated by the following:

  • Compressive wrap to help reduce the swelling
  • Avoiding activities that place direct pressure on the swollen elbow
  • Taking anti-inflammatory medications to reduce pain and swelling
  • Use of an elbow pad to cushion the elbow

When these methods do not help, the bursa can be surgically removed.

Prevention of Elbow Bursitis

Protection of your elbow from excessive friction, pressure or repetitive trauma may prevent bursitis. This can include wearing elbow pads when you need to lean on your elbows while working.

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