What is Elbow Bursitis?

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  • Written By: Rachel Burkot
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
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  • Last Modified Date: 25 March 2020
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Elbow bursitis is a condition that occurs when the bursa becomes infected or inflamed. The bursa is the slippery part of the tip of the elbow between the loose skin and elbow bones. The bursa is flat, and its function is to allow the skin to move freely above the bone underneath. Elbow bursitis is also called olecranon bursitis, and patients who are afflicted with this disease experience the collection of fluid in the bursa. When the fluid builds up, pain and swelling usually accompany it.

Bursitis in the elbow can result from a few different causes, including trauma, infection, medical conditions and pressure. A fall on the elbow or a hard hit to this body part can cause the bursa to collect fluid and swell, leading to bursitis of elbow. An injury that breaks the skin can allow bacteria to enter the bursa, causing an infection, which leads to fluid collection, redness and swelling. If the infection is not treated, the fluid can become pus, which is very dangerous for the patient. Medical conditions that may lead to bursitis of the elbow include rheumatoid arthritis and gout, and pressure on the elbow, such as leaning on it while it is resting on a hard surface, can also cause bursitis.


The first symptom of elbow bursitis is swelling; this is how the patient first becomes aware that he or she has a problem with the elbow. The bursa stretches, which causes pain in the nerve endings of the elbow. Eventually, the bursa becomes so large that the person experiences less mobility in the elbow than before. If the bursitis in elbow was the result of an infection, additional symptoms cause the skin around the elbow to become red and warm, and the patient can experience fevers, chills and sweats, and scrape or cuts by the infected region. The infection must be treated right away, or it can spread into the bloodstream, which becomes extremely dangerous for the patient.

If a person believes he or she is experiencing elbow bursitis symptoms, a doctor should be consulted immediately. Doctors can often diagnose bursitis just by performing an examination, but it is always a good idea to do an x-ray just to be sure. If the diagnosis is unclear, an MRI may be done as well, but usually an x-ray will be a clear indication.

Elbow bursitis treatment may be nonsurgical or surgical. Nonsurgical treatment involves removing the fluid from the bursitis, and antibiotic drugs are usually prescribed to prevent the infection from progressing, if the bursitis likely came from an infection. Surgical treatment should only be resorted to if the doctor is unable to remove the fluid otherwise. In extreme cases, the only way bursitis can be cured is by removing the bursa.


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