Elbow (Olecranon) Bursitis: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Home Remedies

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Elbow BursitisYou know that soft tissue at the end of your elbow? It’s a little slippery, sac-like protrusion. Did you know that it has a name? It’s called the olecranon bursa, and think of it as kind of nature’s elbow pad. From time to time, those sacs (there’s actually a few of them in there) can become inflamed, causing what is called olecranon bursitis or elbow bursitis. It can be slightly annoying, and give your elbow a look similar to that of a certain cartoon character, Popeye. What causes bursitis in the elbow, and what are the symptoms? Are there home remedies for elbow bursitis? We’ll cover all of these concerns, and by the time we’re done, you’ll know the basics of elbow bursitis.

The Causes of Elbow Bursitis

What causes elbow bursitis? As it turns out, there is more than one answer to that question. Elbow bursitis occurs when the olecranon bursa becomes inflamed or injured, which will cause an accumulation of fluid in the elbow. There are several common causes of this inflammation.

1. Infection

Your elbow often develops an infection of some sort due to puncture injuries. It may be a cut or a mosquito bite, but the puncture wound allows bacteria to enter the olecranon bursa and it becomes infected.

2. Long-Term Pressure

The olecranon bursa can become inflamed due to prolonged periods of pressure on the elbow. Constantly leaning the elbow against a hard surface can cause the bursa to become inflamed, especially over the course of a few months. Students and those with desk jobs tend to occupy this physical position for hours during the day. Those with more physical jobs, such as plumbers and HVAC service workers, often have to crawl on their elbows for extended periods of time.

3. Trauma/Injury

A hard hit or injury to the elbow may also lead to inflammation and swelling of the olecranon bursa.

4. Medical Conditions

There are a few medical conditions like gout and arthritis that can cause elbow bursitis.

Now that we know what causes elbow bursitis, we can move on to the symptoms.

Symptoms of Elbow Bursitis

The main symptom of elbow bursitis is swelling. The swelling begins gradually; you may not even notice it for a period of time. However, this swelling usually worsens, and may even have your elbow swell to the size of a golf ball. The good news is that it’s rarely painful. The elbow tends to be tender, and maybe a little sore. It can become slightly painful if the bursa is infected. The bursa may even fill with pus and drain if punctured. But there are a few things that can cause your elbow to swell. So, the next step is to go see a doctor and get a proper diagnosis.

Diagnosing Elbow Bursitis

The doctor will probably ask you about your recent medical history in order to rule out conditions like arthritis. Next, the doctor will take a look at your presumably swollen elbow. Depending on the severity of your bursitis and the extent of the swelling, there are a couple of routes the doctor may take. If there is an excessive amount of fluid, the doctor may drain your elbow of the fluid. Based on the characteristics of the fluid, it may also be sent for tests. An X-ray may be ordered, just to see if the cause of the injury is still in your elbow, such as a fracture. You can then move on to treatment.

Home Remedies for Elbow Bursitis

If your elbow bursitis is not caused by infection, you have a few home remedy options, which may help clear up your bursitis.

1. Activity Change

If your bursitis is due to prolonged pressure, change how you’re using your elbow. If it’s a matter of your desk set-up at work, it may be time for some rearranging. Try not to lean on your elbow, if possible.

2. Elbow Pads

If the above is not possible, try elbow pads. These will cushion your elbows, and could provide them with enough protection to heal completely.

3. Cold Compress

A cold compress or ice pack may also help bring down the swelling in your elbow.

If the elbow bursitis is due to infection, it’s best to let the doctor treat it. You should not attempt to drain your elbow on your own. A healthcare professional may also prescribe antibiotics to clean up the infection

Elbow Bursitis: Not as Bad as It Looks

Elbow bursitis may look pretty frightening, especially if your elbow swells up to seemingly impossible sizes. But, it’s not a big deal if treated properly. The pain is relatively mild, if there is any at all, and it can be easily cleaned up so that your elbow is as good as new.

Also Read:

“Elbow (Olecranon) Bursitis,” Ortho Info; http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00028, last accessed May 2, 2017.
“Olecranon Bursitis,” American Society for Surgery of the Hand; http://www.assh.org/handcare/hand-arm-conditions/olecranon-bursitis, last accessed May 2, 2017.
Bracilovic, A., “Elbow (Olecranon) Bursitis,” Arthritis Health, March 2, 2012; http://www.arthritis-health.com/types/bursitis/elbow-olecranon-bursitis, last accessed May 2, 2017.
“Olecranon Bursitis (Popeye Elbow),” WebMD; http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/tc/olecranon-bursitis-popeye-elbow-topic-overview, last accessed May 2, 2017.