Do You Have
Elbow Bursitis?

Is your elbow swollen and painful? Your pain may be from elbow bursitis. Learn if this may be the cause of your elbow pain and the best treatment options.

What is Elbow Bursitis?

Bursa sacs are fluid filled sacs that function to help cushion and lubricate joints and bony prominences. The elbow has a bursa located around the tip of the elbow called the Olecranon. Inflammation of this bursa is therefore called Olecranon Bursitis. When inflamed, this bursa becomes very tender to the touch and can become very swollen. Direct contact with the tip of the elbow is very painful.

Elbow Bursitis

What Causes Bursitis?

Bursitis often occurs because of direct trauma. Hitting the point of your elbow is a common cause for Olecranon bursitis. Consistent pressure such as leaning on your elbow can also result in bursitis. People with systemic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout can get bursitis even without any aggravating factors. Finally, in some cases, the bursa can become infected resulting in increased skin temperature, redness and swelling of the bursa.

Treatment for Bursitis

As bursitis is an inflammatory condition, the focus of treatment is on reducing the inflammation. Utilize ice therapy to minimize local swelling. Do not use heat as this will increase swelling and inflammation. As the bursa is superficial, ice massage is an effective means of icing. Fill Styrofoam cups with water and put them in the freezer. Peel off the top of the cup exposing the ice. Massage the ice over the elbow for 5 minutes and repeat often.

ice massage

In addition to ice, anti-inflammatory medication is also frequently used to reduce local inflammation. Anti-inflammatory creams such as Voltaren gel works will with superficial inflammation. If symptoms persist, cortisone injections may be recommended. And an infection is suspected as the cause of the bursitis, antibiotic medication will be prescribed. In cases when symptoms are persistent, surgery to remove the bursa may be recommended.

If swelling continues, the use of a compression wrap can help to minimize the swelling. To reduce repeated irritation, avoid putting pressure on the elbow. If you find you frequently hit the point of your elbow, the use of an elbow pad can be beneficial.

Elbow Pad

Finally, it is very important that if there is a potential for infection that you have it evaluated immediately. One of the most accurate ways of determining if the bursa is infected is to compare the skin temperature of the inflamed elbow and compare it to the normal elbow. If the skin temperature feels significantly higher, seek medical treatment.

Physical Therapy

With acute bursitis, exercise and activity should be limited. If symptoms of bursitis persist, physical therapy can be an effective treatment choice.

Modalities used in physical therapy for the treatment of elbow bursitis can include ultrasound, ice therapy, and iontophoresis. Ultrasound works by helping to increase tissue temperature and promote healing. Another type of ultrasound called phonophoresis can also be used. This type of ultrasound utilizes a gel that has an anti-inflammatory medication mixed in it to help in reducing inflammation. Iontophoresis is another modality that utilizes anti-inflammatory medication but utilizes electrodes to help administer the medication.

Elbow bursitis can be painful and limiting. Implementing simple treatment concepts early can significantly reduce pain and long term irritation.

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Am Fam Physician. 1997 Nov 1;56(7):1797-806, 1811-2.Upper extremity bursitis.Salzman KL, Lillegard WA, Butcher JD.

J Am Board Fam Pract. 1995 May-Jun;8(3):217-20.Septic olecranon bursitis: recognition and treatment.Shell D, Perkins R, Cosgarea A.

Arch Intern Med. 1989 Jul;149(7):1581-5.Septic and nonseptic olecranon bursitis. Utility of the surface temperature probe in the early differentiation of septic and nonseptic cases.Smith DL, McAfee JH, Lucas LM, Kumar KL, Romney DM.