Olecranon Bursitis: The Complete Guide

Olecranon Bursitis: The Complete Guide

by Stephanie Meadows

If your occupation or frequent activity involves repetitive motion, you may be all too familiar with a condition known as bursitis. It’s a painful inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs in your joints.

One of the most common forms of this ailment is olecranon bursitis. It’s characterized by swelling, redness, and pain at the tip of the elbow. Not only is it associated with certain types of labor including plumbing, mining, gardening and mechanics, but your chances of developing it are higher if you play tennis and golf, or even lean too much on your elbows. And, of course, your risk increases as you get older.

Olecranon bursitis usually occurs as the result of a single or repeated injury to the elbow, an infection, or certain medical conditions including gout and rheumatoid arthritis.

How Do You Know If You Have Olecranon Bursitis?

Symptoms of olecranon bursitis include swelling in your elbow that could restrict motion, and mild to severe pain that can spread throughout your arm. If the skin feels warm and bright red, chances are the bursa (the fluid-filled sac) is infected.

What’s happening is that the lining of the bursa becomes inflamed as a reaction to the injury. It’s secreting more than a normal amount of fluid into the closed cavity of the bursa, inflating it and thus producing the swelling.

An orthopedic doctor can easily diagnose olecranon bursitis. He or she may first order an X-ray to check for any broken bone, bone spur, or calcium deposit in the elbow. The doctor may also order blood tests to check for infection or another medical cause of your pain.  Some fluid might be removed from the bursa and sent for testing.  The presence of pus in the fluid would indicate an infection.  

How Is Olecranon Bursitis Treated?

If the bursa is infected, treatment involves draining the excess fluid with a syringe and fighting the infection with antibiotics. In more severe cases, your doctor can inject a hydrocortisone type medication into the bursa to relieve the inflammation and prevent further fluid accumulation.

Otherwise, mild to moderate olecranon bursitis can be treated with icing, a compression bandage, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) administered orally or topically, and avoiding further trauma to the elbow. Elbow padding is also an option for symptomatic relief.

If none of these measures are effective and the fluid continues to accumulate after multiple draining attempts, surgery to remove the bursa from the elbow may be necessary.  It’s a minor operation usually done under general anesthetic with minimal risk. No muscle, ligament, or joint structure is affected, and a splint is applied to your arm to protect the skin and enable swift recovery. The bursa is often able to regrow to a normal size over a period of 10 to 14 days.

If you are experiencing pain or swelling in your elbow because of trauma or repetitive motions, an orthopedic physician can help diagnose and treat your injury to prevent further harm. Spectrum Orthopaedics in North Canton, Ohio offers experienced providers and the latest in diagnostic techniques to ensure prompt care. Call 330-305-0838 for an appointment today.