April 19, 2019

What is the treatment for elbow bursitis?

Diseases and Conditions | Hand, Wrist and Elbow

THIS POST IS PART OF THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO HAND, WRIST AND ELBOW INJURIES

If you’ve noticed your elbows are red or swollen, it could be a sign that you have elbow (olecranon) bursitis. Elbow bursitis occurs in the olecranon, which is the pointy bone in the elbow. Bursitis refers to inflammation of a part of the body called a bursa, which is a small jelly-like sac. Bursitis is common in the shoulder, elbow, hip, knee and heel.

There are many bursae located throughout the body that act as a cushion between soft tissues and bones. If a bursa becomes inflamed or irritated, more fluid may surround the bursa where bursitis will develop.

What causes bursitis to flare up?

  • Trauma: A hard hit to the elbow can cause the bursa to produce more fluid and become irritated
  • Infection: If an injury breaks the skin, bacteria could get inside the bursa and cause an infection
  • Pressure: If you lean on your elbows often, bursitis can develop over several months

How do you know if elbow bursitis is infected?

If the infection is not treated soon, it may spread to other parts of the arm. If you experience any of the following symptoms of elbow bursitis, you should meet with your physician.

  • Fluid
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Pain
  • Pus 
  • Fever

Symptoms of elbow bursitis

  • Swelling: Typically, the first symptom of elbow bursitis 
  • Discomfort and pain: The bursa begins to stretch as it continues to swell
  • Redness: If the bursa is infected, the skin becomes red.
  • Warmth: The skin becomes warm when the bursa is infected. 

Physician examination 

To determine how to treat your elbow pain, your physician will ask you for a complete medical history, have you describe your symptoms and how the injury occurred and conduct a physical examination.

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Treatment for an infected bursa

  • Nonsurgical treatment: If your physician concludes that bursitis is due to an infection, it may be recommended to remove the fluid from the bursa with a needle. This can help relieve symptoms. Your physician may also prescribe antibiotics.
  • Surgical treatment: Surgery for an infected bursa may be necessary if it does not improve with antibiotics or removal of fluid from the elbow. 

Treatment for a noninfected bursa

  • Avoid certain activities: If the bursitis is not from an infection in the bursa, you may need to change activities that involve pressure to your swollen elbow.
  • Elbow pads: An elbow pad may help cushion your elbow and relieve any unnecessary pressure. 
  • Medications: Medications such as ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatories may be used to reduce swelling. 
  • Injection of steroids. The most common treatment is draining the fluid and injection of steroids.
  • Surgical treatment: If elbow bursitis is not from an infection, surgery may still be recommended if nonsurgical treatment did not work. Your physician will apply a splint to your arm after your procedure to protect the skin. Typically, casts are not necessary.
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Ashley McGovern

By Ashley McGovern

Ashley was the PR coordinator for OrthoIndy from 2018 to 2020. Ashley graduated from Purdue University in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and strategic communications with a certificate in entrepreneurship.

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