Olecranon Bursitis

What is olecranon bursitis?

Olecranon bursitis is a condition in which swelling and inflammation occur in a small fluid-filled sac (the bursa) at the tip of the elbow. The bursa forms a soft cover over the elbow tip and allows the skin to glide smoothly when one bends and extends the elbow. When it becomes inflamed, sometimes from a repetitive task or a direct bump, the bursa can produce more fluid. This leads to swelling and a painful bubble at the elbow tip. This condition can also occur in the knee, shoulder, and other joints in the body. 

Olecranon bursitis is also known as "student elbow," "baker's elbow" and "water elbow." Physicians at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush Hand, Wrist & Elbow Institute are skilled in the evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of olecranon bursitis and other painful elbow conditions.

What causes olecranon bursitis?

Olecranon bursitis can occur after a direct blow to the tip of the elbow. Most commonly, this is secondary to a fall and athletes are especially prone. Sometimes, the condition can occur from repetitive stress to the elbow during activities in which the elbow is used to forcefully swing an object, such as in tennis, golf and baseball. Constant leaning on the elbow can also lead to olecranon bursitis.

What are the symptoms of olecranon bursitis?

Symptoms of olecranon bursitis may include:

  • Swelling at the tip of the elbow
  • Stiffness of the elbow
  • Pain with any applied pressure to the elbow tip
  • Bubble (or sac) protruding from the elbow with or without redness

How is olecranon bursitis diagnosed?

The diagnosis of olecranon bursitis is typically made after a thorough examination of the arm and a detailed patient history. An X-ray may be performed to rule out other conditions. A blood sample and bursa fluid analysis may be done to discover the cause of the fluid and rule out an associated infection.

What are the treatments for olecranon bursitis?

Non-surgical Treatment Options

Olecranon bursitis usually responds well to these non-surgical treatments within a few weeks:

  • Ice on the elbow
  • Protective elbow pads or compression sleeves
  • Use of anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen
  • Cortisone injections
  • Draining the excess fluid from the bursa with a needle

Surgical Treatment Options

Surgery is not commonly needed to treat olecranon bursitis, but in some cases, a physician may recommend surgery. In these rare instances, the bursa can be surgically removed to allow a new, more normal bursa to form over time. The physicians at the MOR Hand, Wrist & Elbow Institute will discuss the best options and treatment plan for individualized care.