Bursitis occurs when there is an inflammation to the thin, fluid-filled sac called bursa. Thus, elbow bursitis occurs when there is inflammation to the bursa that is located at the bony tip of the elbow, known as the olecranon. This inflammation causes the usually-flat bursa at the olecranon to fill with fluid and swell up, resulting in elbow bursitis.
Bursa is located throughout your body, acting as cushions between bones and soft tissues, muscles, and tendons. This allows for the smooth movement of these soft tissues, muscles and tendons over bone.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
One of the first symptoms of elbow bursitis is swelling at the elbow. The skin becomes loose, hence the swelling may not be noticeable immediately.
Other symptoms include:
- Pain when bending the elbow and resting the elbow on a hard surface
- Redness and warmth to the touch
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES & RISK FACTORS?
Common causes of elbow bursitis include:
- Direct blow or high impact to the elbow tip
- Leaning on the elbow for prolonged periods of time on a hard surface
- Injury to the skin at the elbow tip, which may result in infection to the bursa such as a cut or insect bite
- Medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout or kidney failure
WHAT IS THE DIAGNOSIS?
A history of the injury and a physical examination of the elbow will be conducted by the Doctor.
Imaging tests will be taken, such as an x-ray to check for bone spurs. He may also take a sample of the fluid at your elbow, to determine the cause of the bursitis.
WHAT ARE THE TREATMENT OPTIONS?
There are several treatment options available for elbow bursitis. Nonsurgical treatment options include:
- Resting the elbow joint
Resting the joint can help as it avoids irritating the bursa if it is due to repetitive elbow motions such as playing sports or leaning on your elbows. By reducing irritation, this will help the bursitis to recover faster.
- Applying ice or heat
Icing the elbow can help to reduce swelling and inflammation, while heat can help decrease stiffness and soothe the discomfort experienced in your elbow.
- Medications such as over-the-counter pain relievers
This includes acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen to reduce pain and inflammation.
- Steroid injections such as corticosteroid
Corticosteroid injection can be directly injected into your elbow to help reduce pain, inflammation and swelling.
- Elbow supports such as elbow pads
An elbow pad can cushion and protect your elbow while you do daily activities. By wrapping around the elbow, it causes compression and heat which can assist in healing your bursitis.
Gentle exercises for your elbow can help you regain muscle strength, and possibly prevent elbow problems in the future.
If it is suspected that your bursitis is caused by an infection, the doctor may drain the fluid from your bursa using a needle in a process called aspirating. Based on the fluid drained, the doctor can identify the type of infection as well.
Should nonsurgical treatments fail to alleviate your symptoms, surgery may be recommended to remove the bursa. However, surgery is rarely recommended as it is easy to get an infection.