Olecranon bursitis

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Olecranon bursitis
Other names: Elbow bursitis, liquid elbow, elbow bump, student's elbow,[1] Popeye elbow, baker's elbow
Olecranon bursitis
SpecialtyEmergency medicine, orthopedics
SymptomsSwelling, redness, and pain at the tip of the elbow[2][3]
TypesAcute, chronic, septic[3]
CausesTrauma, pressure, infection[2]
Risk factorsRheumatoid arthritis, gout[2]
Diagnostic methodBased on symptoms[4]
Differential diagnosisSeptic arthritis, tendinitis, cellulitis[5]
PreventionElbow pads[3]
TreatmentAvoiding further trauma, compression bandage, NSAIDs, drainage, surgery[2][3]
FrequencyRelatively common.[3]

Olecranon bursitis is a condition characterized by swelling, redness, and pain at the tip of the elbow.[2][3] If the underlying cause is due to an infection, fever may be present.[3] The condition is relatively common and is one of the most frequent types of bursitis.[3]

It usually occurs as a result of trauma or pressure to the elbow, infection, or certain medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout.[2] Olecranon bursitis is associated with certain types of work including plumbing, mining, gardening, and mechanics.[3] The underlying mechanism is inflammation of the fluid filled sac between the olecranon and skin.[3] Diagnosis is usually based on symptoms.[4]

Treatment involves avoiding further trauma, a compression bandage, and NSAIDs.[2][3] If there is concern of infection the fluid should be drained and tested and antibiotics are typically recommended.[2] The use of steroid injections is controversial.[6] Surgery may be done if other measures are not effective.[2]

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms include swelling in the elbow, which can sometimes be large enough to restrict motion. There is pain originating in the elbow joint from mild to severe which can spread to the rest of the arm. If the bursa is infected, there also will be prominent redness and the skin will feel very warm. Another symptom would include the infected bursa possibly opening spontaneously and draining pus.[7]


Hard blow to the tip of the elbow on a wall

Bursitis normally develops as a result either of a single injury to the elbow (for example, a hard blow to the tip of the elbow), or perhaps more commonly due to repeated minor injuries, such as repeated leaning on the point of the elbow on a hard surface. The chance of developing bursitis is higher if one's job or hobby involves a repetitive movement (for example, tennis, golf, or even repetitive computer work involving leaning on one's elbow).[8] The likelihood of developing the condition is increased as one gets older.[9]

Another possible cause of inflammation of the bursa is infection, which can usually (but not always) be traced to a crack or other lesion in the skin which allowed for bacteria of the normal skin flora to invade deeper layers of tissue.[7]


As a reaction to injury, the lining of the bursa becomes inflamed. It then secretes a much greater than normal amount of fluid into the closed cavity of the bursa, from where it has nowhere to go. The bursa therefore inflates, producing a swelling over the proximal end of the ulna which is usually inflamed and tender.[10][11]


This bursa is located just over the extensor aspect of the extreme proximal end of the ulna. In common with other bursae, it is impalpable and contains only a very small amount of fluid in its normal state, and fulfills the function of facilitating the joint's movement by enabling anatomical structures to glide more easily over each other.[12][13]


Diagnosis is usually based on symptoms.[4] While some recommend that if there is concern of infection the fluid should be drained and tested.[2] Other recommend simple treating cases with antibiotics were there is a concern for infection without drainage.[14][15]



Conservative management of minor cases involves icing, a compression bandage, and avoidance of the aggravating activity. This can also be augmented with NSAIDs taken by mouth or applied as a cream. Elbow padding can also be used for symptomatic relief. The use of steroid injections is controversial.[6]In case of infection, the bursitis should be drained and treated with an antibiotic.[7]


If the fluid continues to return after multiple drainings or the bursa is constantly causing pain, surgery to remove the bursa is an option.[16] The minor operation removes the bursa from the elbow and is left to regrow but at a normal size over a period of ten to fourteen days. It is usually done under general anesthetic and has minimal risks. The surgery does not disturb any muscle, ligament, or joint structures. To recover from surgical removal, a splint will be applied to the arm to protect the skin. Exercises will be prescribed to improve range of motion.[7]


  1. Khodaee, M (15 February 2017). "Common Superficial Bursitis". American family physician. 95 (4): 224–231. PMID 28290630.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 "Elbow (Olecranon) Bursitis". AAOS. Archived from the original on 19 February 2018. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 Reilly, D; Kamineni, S (January 2016). "Olecranon bursitis". Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery. 25 (1): 158–67. doi:10.1016/j.jse.2015.08.032. PMID 26577126.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Bursitis - Musculoskeletal and Connective Tissue Disorders". MSD Manual Professional Edition. Archived from the original on 19 February 2018. Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  5. Ferri, Fred F. (2017). Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2018 E-Book: 5 Books in 1. Elsevier Health Sciences. p. 229. ISBN 9780323529570. Archived from the original on 2018-02-19. Retrieved 2018-02-19.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Sayegh, ET; Strauch, RJ (November 2014). "Treatment of olecranon bursitis: a systematic review". Archives of Orthopaedic and Trauma Surgery. 134 (11): 1517–36. doi:10.1007/s00402-014-2088-3. PMID 25234151.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 "Elbow (Olecranon) Bursitis -OrthoInfo - AAOS". Orthoinfo.aaos.org. 2011-01-01. Archived from the original on 2013-08-19. Retrieved 2013-08-19.
  8. "NHS direct - Bursitis". Archived from the original on 2012-03-03. Retrieved 2012-03-07.
  9. "Mayo Clinic - Bursitis risk factors". Archived from the original on 2017-06-23. Retrieved 2017-06-11.
  10. MD, Bruce Carl Anderson (2006). Office Orthopedics for Primary Care: Diagnosis. Elsevier Health Sciences. p. 67. ISBN 978-1-4160-2207-7. Archived from the original on 29 August 2021. Retrieved 11 January 2021.
  11. Benjamin, Ivor; Griggs, Robert C.; Andreoli, Thomas E.; Fitz, J. Gregory (2010). Andreoli and Carpenter's Cecil Essentials of Medicine E-Book. Elsevier Health Sciences. p. 809. ISBN 978-1-4377-2673-2. Archived from the original on 2021-08-29. Retrieved 2021-01-11.
  12. Moore, Keith L.; Dalley, Arthur F. (2018). Clinically Oriented Anatomy. Wolters kluwer india Pvt Ltd. p. 274. ISBN 978-93-87963-68-9. Archived from the original on 2021-08-29. Retrieved 2021-01-11.
  13. Patton, Kevin T. (2015). Anatomy and Physiology - E-Book. Elsevier Health Sciences. p. 306. ISBN 978-0-323-31687-3.
  14. Beyde, A; Thomas, AL; Colbenson, KM; Sandefur, BJ; Kisirwan, I; Mullan, AF; O'Driscoll, SW; Campbell, RL (January 2022). "Efficacy of empiric antibiotic management of septic olecranon bursitis without bursal aspiration in emergency department patients". Academic emergency medicine : official journal of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine. 29 (1): 6–14. doi:10.1111/acem.14406. PMID 34698411.
  15. Reilly, D; Kamineni, S (January 2016). "Olecranon bursitis". Journal of shoulder and elbow surgery. 25 (1): 158–67. doi:10.1016/j.jse.2015.08.032. PMID 26577126.
  16. Information, National Center for Biotechnology; Pike, U. S. National Library of Medicine 8600 Rockville; MD, Bethesda (26 July 2018). "How can bursitis be treated?". Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). Archived from the original on 28 August 2021. Retrieved 7 January 2021.

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