Elbow (Olecranon) Bursitis: Signs and Treatments

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Elbow bursitis, also called olecranon bursitis, is irritation or inflammation of the olecranon bursa—a sac that covers and cushions the outside of elbow. This occurs when extra fluid collects in the bursa, due to injury or an inflammatory condition.

With elbow bursitis, you may notice a squishy lump on the back of your elbow that may or may not be painful.

Common symptoms of elbow bursitis.
JR Bee / Verywell.

This article explains the symptoms and causes of elbow bursitis. It also covers how this condition is diagnosed and treated.

What Is Elbow Bursitis?

A bursa is a slippery, sac-like tissue that normally contains a small amount of fluid. It helps with movement, especially around pointed areas like the elbow.

When a bursa becomes inflamed (bursitis), the sac fills with extra fluid. This can cause pain and noticeable swelling behind the elbow.

Elbow bursitis is the most common type of bursitis.

What Are Symptoms of Elbow Bursitis?

Common symptoms of elbow bursitis include:​​

Some individuals may develop an infection within the bursa, which is known as septic bursitis. This can cause a fever, bursa swelling and tenderness, as well as a general uneasy or sick feeling.

Recap

Common symptoms of elbow bursitis include pain, swelling, and joint warmth. If you have an infection, you may also develop a fever.

What Causes Elbow Bursitis?

Elbow bursitis may be caused by:

  • Inflammation triggered by pressure on the elbow, which can occur if you lean on your elbows a lot
  • Inflammation triggered by underlying inflammatory conditions, which occur when the immune system responds to something it views as harmful
  • An elbow injury

Septic bursitis may occur after an elbow injury or if an already existing infection spreads to the elbow bursa.

How Is Bursitis of the Elbow Diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider may be able to diagnose elbow bursitis by taking your medical history and giving you a physical examination. Your doctor may also:

  • Have imaging, like an X-ray, done to ensure the elbow joint doesn't have a fracture, or break
  • Have a sample of fluid taken from the bursa and analyzed in a lab to check for infection

How Is Elbow Bursitis Treated?

At-home treatment for bursitis may include:

  • Resting and avoiding putting pressure on the impacted elbow
  • Icing the impacted elbow
  • Using over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, like Advil (ibuprofen)

If you continue to experience pain, your doctor may drain the fluid and give you injections for inflammation. An infection requires antibiotics and possibly surgery to remove the bursa.

Summary

Elbow bursitis can cause pain, swelling, difficulty with motion, and joint warmth. Some may develop an infection, which can also cause a fever and tenderness.

Elbow bursitis may be caused by putting too much pressure on the elbow, inflammatory conditions, as well as an injury.

Bursitis may be treated with at-home remedies. However, if these don't work, or if you have an infection, your doctor may prescribe medications, as well as drain the fluid.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Elbow (olecranon) bursitis.

  2. Khodaee M. Common superficial bursitis. Am Fam Physician. 2017;95(4):224-231.

  3. Ortho Bethesda. What is septic bursitis?

  4. Michigan Medicine. Olecranon bursitis (popeye elbow).

  5. Cleveland Clinic. Tendinitis or bursitis? Your best treatments begin at home.