An Overview of Elbow Bursitis

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Elbow bursitis, also called olecranon bursitis, is irritation or inflammation of a sac that covers and cushions the outside of the elbow. This occurs when extra fluid collects in the area 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.

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

Common symptoms of elbow bursitis.
Verywell / JR Bee.

What Is Elbow Bursitis?

Elbow bursitis refers to inflammation of the olecranon bursa at the tip of your elbow. 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. In more rare cases, the bursa can rupture or burst.

Elbow bursitis is the most common type of 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.


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.


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:

  • Take X-rays 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

Your provider also may discuss circumstances that may cause bursitis to flare up, such as the type of work you do. Repetitive tasks or postures that place stress on the elbows, for example, can lead to injury.

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.

Will an Elbow Brace Help Bursitis?

A brace may help to keep your elbow still while your injury heals. A healthcare provider also may recommend elbow pads, so long as there's no infection involved. If surgery is necessary, a splint will help during the healing process. It's also likely that elbow bursitis exercises may be recommended.


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, or 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.

7 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. Davis L, King A. Acute Rupture to the Olecranon Bursa in a Collegiate Football Player. Journal of Sports Medicine and Allied Health Sciences: Official Journal of the Ohio Athletic Trainers Association. 2016 Vol. 2: Iss. 1, Article 15. doi:10.25035/jsmahs.02.01.15

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

  4. Ortho Bethesda. What is septic bursitis?

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

  6. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Bursitis.

  7. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Elbow (Olecranon) Bursitis.

By Jonathan Cluett, MD
Jonathan Cluett, MD, is board-certified in orthopedic surgery. He served as assistant team physician to Chivas USA (Major League Soccer) and the United States men's and women's national soccer teams.