Elbow bursitis also known as olecranon bursitis

What is elbow bursitis?

Elbow bursitis, also known olecranon bursitis happens when fluid collects in the olecranon bursa or sac that is situated below the elbow. Elbow bursitis often just appears out of the blue, you may notice a spongy type of lump at the back part of the elbow. You may or may not remember what happened to cause the elbow bursitis, it is more common in older people and happens to men more so than women, it may be more noticeable in the dominant arm.

Elbow bursitis overview

A bursa is a sac like tiny slippery tissue that typically allows smooth movement around the point of the elbow bone area. When inflammation occurs in the bursa the tiny sacs will fill up with fluid leading to pain and swelling at the back of the elbow, this is the most common type of bursitis and is called elbow bursitis.

When you are a young child the bursa isn’t quite formed this happens a little later in life because the skeleton is still developing hence the delay in the formation of the bursa. The bone of the olecranon starts to develop and as it becomes more rigid the body makes the bursa to have protection in that area and to allow the elbow joint to bend smoothly. When the olecranon is fully grown it will measure 6cm in length, when inflamed it can be swollen to a golf ball size.

Causes of elbow bursitis

Sometimes it is hard to understand why you get elbow bursitis but some of the more common causes are

  • A traumatic accident like a fall on the elbow
  • The elbow may just seem to pop out by itself
  • If you work with your elbow on a hard office desk it may lead to swelling
  • An infection in the elbow known as septic bursitis (bacteria gets into the bursa)

Signs & Symptoms of Elbow Bursitis

There are common signs & symptoms of elbow bursitis that include:

  1. ​Stiffness around the elbow
  2. Pain effecting the back of the elbow
  3. The bony part of the elbow will be swollen
  4. Limited motion of the elbow without pain


  Elbow bursitis diagnosis

  1. You will need to visit your doctor for a complete diagnosis because there may be other reasons for your elbow pain and swelling, normally the doctor will be able to make a diagnosis just by doing an examination of the elbow. However, a ray may be needed to look at the elbow joint for normality rarely would an MRI be needed unless the doctor has some uncertainty about his diagnosis.

Elbow bursitis can become apparent because of a systemic condition, to lessen the symptoms of the swelling and pain it may be necessary to treat the underlying condition that may have led to olecranon bursitis, for that reason the doctor will feel that it is important to check for

  • Gout
  • Chondrocalcinosis
  • Arthritis
  • Pseudogout​

Elbow bursitis treatments

​Elbow bursitis will cause discomfort depending on whether there is an infection or not these are the best treatments:

Elbow bursitis with no infection

​Elbow bursitis with infection

​If your elbow bursitis was caused by infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics​ to treat the infection. Take the medication as directed, if you don’t notice any improvement in the swelling and pain in the following three or four weeks please contact your doctor for further advice and treatment.