Symptoms of Bursitis in the Elbow

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Signs and symptoms of elbow bursitis

Signs and symptoms of elbow bursitis can occur for a number of reasons. Elbow bursitis causes fluid to collect in a sac that lies behind the elbow, called the olecranon bursa. A bursa is a slippery, sac-like tissue which allows smooth movement. Bursitis primary symptoms are pain and tenderness, swelling, red appearance and restriction of range of motion of the affected joint.

Elbow bursitis can follow a traumatic accident, such as a fall onto the back of the elbow, or a car accident or it could pop up out of nowhere. Occasionally, the swelling and inflammation can be the result of an infection within the bursa. You should see a physician immediately if you have disabiling joint pain, excessive swelling, redness, bruising or a rash, sharp or shooting pain, chills or sweats, or fever as this could signal an infection in the bursa.

Causes of bursitis

Bursitis usually arises from repetitive movement or prolonged or excessive pressure on the joint. People who rest on their elbows for long periods of time are a prime example. Those individuals would benefit from purchasing elbow pads and wearing them. Cleaning personnel who might run a vacuum for hours at a time are susceptible. Inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis can make patients susceptible to bursitis.


Diagnosis begins with a medical history and an examination by your physician. X-rays do not tend to show soft tissue problems, though one is often ordered by the physician to be sure that the elbow joint itself appears normal. An MRI is able to detect soft tissue problems, though one is rarely necessary.


Treatment usually begins by avoiding any aggravating movements to allow the inflammation to subside. Icing the area is important to control inflammation and swelling so the tendons and bursa can return to their normal state. Anti-inflammatory medications can reduce inflammation and help to ease painful symptoms. Compression, elevation, ultrasound, massage, stretching and strengthening exercises can also be considered. If the symptoms persist, an injection of cortisone may be considered, this can be very helpful for conditions that are not improving.

Elbow bursitis can come back. If it returns persistently, the bursa can be surgically removed, though this is rarely necessary.

Only your physician can properly diagnose elbow bursitis. He will be able to order any tests necessary and give you what he feels is best for your case as far as medications, treatment, therapy,etc.. There are other conditions that could be causing the inflammation, so it is very imjportant to contact your physician, and follow up with them, as communication is very important when it comes to your medical care and treatment plan.