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Elbow Bursitis

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 2022.

What is elbow bursitis?

Elbow bursitis is inflammation of the bursa in your elbow. The bursa is a fluid-filled sac that acts as a cushion between a bone and a tendon. A tendon is a cord of strong tissue that connects muscles to bones. The bursa is located right under the point of your elbow.

Adult Arm Bones

What increases my risk for elbow bursitis?

  • An injury, such as a fall
  • Overuse of your elbow, such as when you play tennis, vacuum, or swing a hammer
  • Pressure on your elbows, such as when you lean on your elbows
  • Bacterial infection
  • Medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout

What are the signs and symptoms of elbow bursitis?

  • Pain or tenderness when you touch or move your elbow
  • Redness or swelling on or around the point of your elbow
  • Decreased movement of your elbow
  • Warmth of the skin over your elbow
  • A grating or grinding sound or feeling when you move your elbow

How is elbow bursitis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine your elbow and ask about your injury or activities. You may need any of the following:

  • Blood tests may be used to check for signs of infection. Healthcare providers may also check for diseases that may be causing your bursitis, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
  • X-ray or MRI pictures may show bone position problems, arthritis, or a fracture. You may be given contrast liquid to help your knee show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • A sample of fluid from your knee may tested for signs of infection. Removal of bursa fluid may also help relieve your symptoms.

How is elbow bursitis treated?

  • Medicines:
    • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
    • Aspirin helps relieve pain and swelling. Take aspirin exactly as directed by your healthcare provider.
    • Antibiotics help fight an infection caused by bacteria.
    • Steroids help decrease pain and swelling. Steroid injections are given directly into the painful area. Steroid pills may be given for a short time to relieve acute pain.
  • Surgery may be needed to remove your bursa or part of your elbow bone. Surgery is only done when other treatments do not work.

How can I manage elbow bursitis?

  • Rest your elbow as much as possible to decrease pain and swelling. Slowly start to do more each day. Return to your daily activities as directed.
  • Apply ice to help decrease swelling and pain. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover the bag with a towel before you place it on your elbow. Apply ice for 15 to 20 minutes, 3 to 4 times each day, as directed.
  • Use compression to help decrease swelling. Healthcare providers may wrap your arm with tape or an elastic bandage. Loosen the elastic bandage if you start to lose feeling in your fingers.
    How to Wrap an Elastic Bandage
  • Elevate (raise) your elbow above the level of your heart as often as you can. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop your elbow on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably.

  • Go to physical therapy, if directed. A physical therapist teaches you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain.

How can I prevent elbow bursitis?

  • Avoid injury and pressure to your elbows. Wear elbow pads or protectors when you play sports. Do not lean on your elbows or clench your fists. Do not tightly grip small items, such as tools or pens.
  • Stretch, warm up, and cool down. Always stretch and do warmup and cool-down exercises before and after you exercise. This will help loosen your muscles and decrease stress on your elbows. Rest between workouts.

When should I call my doctor?

  • Your pain and swelling increase.
  • Your symptoms do not improve after 10 days of treatment.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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