What Exactly Is Elbow (Olecranon) Bursitis?

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Monitoring your body, and keeping track of what feels normal and what doesn’t, is a critical part of making sure that you stay in good health. Since pain and injuries can lead to a long recovery time, you need to arm yourself with all the information you can, in order to recognize and treat a problem as soon as possible. With that in mind, today we’re going to cover a specific topic related to elbow pain and that is elbow bursitis.

What is Elbow Bursitis Exactly?

Elbow bursitis is when the fluid sac at the tip of your elbow becomes filled with fluid, normally due to an injury or irritation that causes more fluid to travel to the normally flat sac. This causes the whole area to become inflamed. The olecranon bursa – which is why it is formally called olecranon bursitis – is normally filled with a bit of fluid to lubricate the joints. This causes it to stay flat and comfortable. When irritation is present, the area will swell as excess fluid fills the sac further. Bursitis [in the] elbow can be caused by a variety of reasons including direct injury to the elbow, repetitive motions, infection and more.
What Exactly Is Elbow (Olecranon) Bursitis - Infographic

What are the Symptoms of Elbow Bursitis?

As with many ailments of the body, there are several symptoms of elbow bursitis to watch out for and monitor. Some of the top ones include:

  • Swelling in the elbow: Since the fluid sac swells when it is injured, you will notice a varying amount of swelling on the elbow itself and in some cases, it will form a “goose egg” lump at the very tip of the elbow. (Feels like a sac in your elbow.)
  • Difficulty in using your elbow: If your elbow feels hard to move, or is painful, this could be another sign of elbow bursitis. This could either be perceived as pain, stiffness, or just slower reaction time.
  • Redness and tenderness: If your whole elbow is tender and is red or sensitive, this is another sign that you have an injury in your olecranon bursa.

Unlike a lot of the other potential issues with your body, the symptoms of elbow bursitis are centered around the injured elbow itself and tend to be easy to spot. This should make it easier to pinpoint. Have said that, you should still consult your doctor if the pain persists.

What Are The Different Ways to Treat Elbow Bursitis?

There several ways to treat elbow bursitis, most of which range depending on the severity of the injury as well as any potential repetition that may occur. The more it happens, the more advanced the treatment may have to be in order to get rid of it. Common treatments include:

  1. Resting & icing: It goes without saying, but the first step to treating elbow bursitis is to rest the elbow. Regardless of the cause, the sac and the elbow itself are inflamed and injured. So, restricting its movement and using ice packs for 20 minute intervals can help the elbow to heal faster and easier. When the swelling and discomfort have disappeared, slowly resume your normal activities. An option that might work for you is our Cold Therapy Elbow Ice Wrap, which was specifically designed to tackle elbow pain:

    SimplyJnJ Elbow Ice Wrap With Compression - Promo


  3. Wearing elbow pads to prevent further injury: During the healing process, and immediately after, consider wearing an elbow pad (if the area is still sensitive) to give it an extra cushion in case of more trauma. This is especially helpful if it’s due to a work injury.
  4. Draining the bursa: In some cases, the bursa may need to be drained by a medical professional so that its contents can be analyzed and the swelling will reduce faster. This often happens when the swelling is really pronounced and making movement difficult. If you want to see what the procedure involves, have a look at the following video:


  6. Antibiotics: If the bursa is found to be infected, antibiotics can help speed up the infection recovery time. These can only be prescribed by a doctor and generally they will only do so after the bursa has been drained, analyzed and it comes back as being infected.
  7. Steroids: In some cases with extreme pain or recurring swelling over time, steroids may be prescribed to help provide some comfort against the pain. This will not get rid of the root cause of the problem, but it will allow medical professionals more time to find the underlying issue.
  8. Physiotherapy: In recurring cases, physiotherapists can help by monitoring your elbow movement and finding alternate ways for you to use your elbow in your day-to-day activities (e.g.: when your job involves repetitive movement).


What is The Recovery Time for Elbow Bursitis?

When dealing with elbow bursitis, the recovery time usually ranges from three to six weeks depending on the severity of the injury and, of course, following the treatment plan told to you by your doctor or other professional. Bursitis elbow recovery time will take longer if the elbow is exercised before its healed, or if the person returns back to the repetitive motions that caused the damage in the first place. Early detection and analysis of it is helpful to making sure that recovery time is as short as possible.
In some cases, elbow bursitis may come back several times. This generally means that the injury wasn’t fully healed in the first place and the irritation has returned, further exacerbating the injury and causing the person to have to re-restart the recovery process again. In rare cases, elbow bursitis can happen several times even when the injury is fully healed. In these cases, it’s possible that a more serious treatment may need to be implemented.
Elbow bursitis is popular amongst jobs that require repetitive motion of the elbow, as well as professional athletes and workers with physically-demanding jobs. Keeping an eye on the symptoms identified above is important to make sure that the treatment starts as early as possible. This will help the sufferer to get the help they need and return to their normal lives as quickly as possible. Have you ever suffered with elbow bursitis? If so, please leave a comment below to let us know how you handled the situation and what worked and didn’t work. Until next time!
Disclaimer – We are not health care practitioners here at SimplyJnJ. We simply post information that we believe will be useful to our readers. Please, always consult your doctor if you have any type of pain. They know your situation better than you do and can provide a proper recovery plan. Click here for additional information on elbow pain.


4 thoughts on “What Exactly Is Elbow (Olecranon) Bursitis?”

  1. Great article Dan! Like you said, elbow bursitis can be so painful. Apart from infection, it can be caused by trauma, prolonged pressure and medical conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and gout.

  2. I have bursitis on my elbow you was saying that the cause bursitis is injury or irritation and trauma well I don’t know how but the only trauma that I have had was I had ulnar surgery on 10-13-22 I told that to my doctor and he said that it would not cause bursitis. Thank you George

    1. Hi George – Yes, it could be from an injury or trauma, but that’s not the only thing that can cause bursitis. Often, people can get bursitis from overuse. For example, a painter that paints with the same arm all the time, or a construction worker who hammers all day long with the same arm. Those are just examples.

      I hope you are able to treat your bursitis George. Hopefully it doesn’t last too long. Take care.

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