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Elbow Bursitis Treatment

Treatment Options for Olecranon Bursitis

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Updated April 10, 2014

The treatment for elbow bursitis is usually best accomplished with a few simple steps:

  • Rest
    Patients with elbow bursitis should rest and protect their elbow until the elbow bursitis has completely resolved. Usually no special protection or bracing is needed, and simply avoiding strenuous activity and pressure on the elbow will allow the inflammation to subside.
  • Ice Application
    Ice application can also help to limit the amount of swelling of the elbow bursa.  Usually applying an ice pack several times a day, for about 15 minutes each time, will be sufficient. 
  • Compression
    Gentle compression with an Ace wrap or neoprene elbow sleeve may help to prevent swelling from returning.  Especially useful when active, gentle compression is also a good way to remind yourself to keep pressure off the back of the elbow.
  • Anti-inflammatory Medications
    An oral anti-inflammatory medication is also commonly prescribed. These medications may  help control symptoms of inflammation.

If these treatments fail to provide relief of symptoms, more invasive treatments may be considered.

  • Draining the Bursa
    Draining the fluid from within the bursa can help with more persistent cases of elbow bursitis.  Typically, a needle is inserted into the bursa, and drawn out through a syringe.  If there is any question of the cause of the bursitis (infection, gout, etc.), the fluid can be analyzed to determine the cause.
  • Cortisone Injection
    After removing the excess fluid, your doctor may  administer a cortisone injection into the bursa. Cortisone will suppress the inflammatory response to hopefully prevent a recurrence of the swelling.  There have been some studies that show a possibility of introducing infection or causing other side-effects with cortisone, so often simply draining the fluid is sufficient.
  • Surgical Treatment
    If the bursitis does not respond to these treatments, a surgery may be considered to remove the bursa sac.  There are several different surgical procedures that have been described, but traditionally the sac is removed in its entirety through an incision directly over the back of the elbow.

Treatment of Infection of Elbow Bursitis

Treatment of infected bursitis requires repeated drainage of the fluid, antibiotic treatment, and sometimes a surgical procedure to remove the infected bursa.

Signs of infection include:

  • Fevers, chills, and sweats
  • Redness around the bursa
  • Pus within the bursa

Because of this specific treatment needed, all cases of elbow bursitis should be evaluated by a physician to ensure there is no evidence of infection.

Prevention of Elbow Bursitis

Elbow bursitis can come back, but in a routine case, followed by drainage and resting the elbow, the inflammation usually subsides and the problem resolves.

If the bursitis returns persistently, the bursa can be surgically removed, but this is rarely necessary. Often patients will feel a marble-like bump of thickened bursa even months after an episode of elbow bursitis. This is the thickened, scar that was the inflamed bursa.

Patients who are prone to developing elbow bursitis are most often those people who place pressure on the point of the elbow for prolonged periods. In these patients, elbow pads can protect the elbow and help to prevent elbow bursitis.

Sources:

Aaron DL, et al. "Four Common Types of Bursitis: Diagnosis and Management" J Am Acad Orthop Surg June 2011 ; 19:359-367.

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