Elbow (olecranon) bursitis: signs and treatment

Elbow bursitis, also known as olecranon bursitis, is irritation or inflammation of the olecranon – a sac that covers and cushions the outside of the elbow. This happens when extra fluid collects in the bursa due to injury or inflammation.

With elbow bursitis, you may notice a soft lump on the back of your elbow that may or may not be painful.

This article explains the symptoms and causes of elbow bursitis. It also covers how to diagnose and treat this condition.

What is elbow bursitis?

A bursa is a smooth, sac-like tissue that usually contains a small amount of fluid. It helps with movement, especially around sharp areas like the elbows.

When the bursa becomes inflamed (bursitis), the bursa fills with extra fluid. This can cause pain and significant swelling in the elbow.

Elbow bursitis is the most common type of bursitis.

Natural Ways to Fight Inflammation

What are the symptoms of elbow bursitis?

Common symptoms of elbow bursitis include:​​​

  • pain in the back of the elbow
  • swelling at the tip of the elbow
  • limited range of motion
  • joint warm
  • red skin
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Some people may develop an infection in the bursa, which is called suppurative bursitis. This can cause fever, swelling and tenderness of the bursa, and a general feeling of restlessness or sickness.

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Common symptoms of elbow bursitis include pain, swelling, and a warm joint. You may also have a fever if you have an infection.

What Causes Elbow Bursitis?

Elbow bursitis can be caused by:

  • Inflammation from pressure on your elbow, which can happen if you’re constantly leaning on your elbow
  • Inflammation triggered by an underlying inflammatory condition, which occurs when the immune system responds to something it deems harmful
  • elbow injury

Infectious bursitis can occur after an elbow injury or after an existing infection has spread to the elbow bursa.

How is Elbow Bursitis Diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider can diagnose elbow bursitis by taking your medical history and performing a physical examination for you. Your doctor may also:

  • Imaging (such as X-rays) to make sure the elbow joint is not fractured or broken
  • A sample of fluid is removed from the bursa and analyzed in the laboratory to check for infection

How is elbow bursitis treated?

Home remedies for bursitis may include:

  • rest and avoid putting pressure on the affected elbow
  • ice the affected elbow
  • Use over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs such as Advil (ibuprofen)

If you continue to experience pain, your doctor may drain fluid and inject you with inflammation. Infections require antibiotics and possibly surgery to remove the bursa.

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Elbow bursitis can cause pain, swelling, difficulty moving, and a warm joint. Some people can develop an infection, which can also cause fever and tenderness.

Elbow bursitis can be caused by excess pressure on the elbow, an inflammatory condition, and injury.

Bursitis can be treated with home remedies. However, if these methods don’t work, or you have an infection, your doctor may prescribe medication and drain fluids.