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Elbow Bursitis


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.

What causes 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 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

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: Your blood is tested for signs of infection. Healthcare providers may also check for diseases that may be causing your bursitis, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
  • X-rays: These pictures will show bone position problems, arthritis, or a fracture.
  • MRI: This scan uses powerful magnets and a computer to take pictures of your elbow. An MRI may show tissue damage or arthritis. You may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. 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.
  • Fluid culture: Healthcare providers use a needle to drain fluid from your bursa. The fluid will be sent to a lab and tested for infection. Removal of bursa fluid may also help relieve your symptoms.

How is elbow bursitis treated?

  • Medicine:
    • NSAIDs: These medicines decrease swelling, pain, and fever. NSAIDs are available without a doctor's order. Ask your healthcare provider which medicine is right for you. Ask how much to take and when to take it. Take as directed. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding and kidney problems if not taken correctly.
    • Antibiotics: These help fight an infection caused by bacteria. You may need antibiotics if your bursitis is caused by infection.
    • Steroid injection: This shot will help decrease pain and swelling.
  • Surgery: You may need surgery to remove your bursa or part of your elbow bone. Surgery is only done when other treatments do not work.

What are the risks of elbow bursitis?

The infection may spread to nearby joints. You may develop long-term bursitis. This may include pain and severe limitation of movement.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Rest: 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.
  • Ice: Ice helps decrease swelling and pain. Ice may also help prevent tissue damage. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel and place it on your elbow for 15 to 20 minutes, 3 to 4 times each day, as directed.
  • Compress: Healthcare providers may wrap your arm with tape or an elastic bandage to decrease swelling. Loosen the elastic bandage if you start to lose feeling in your fingers.
  • 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.
  • Physical therapy: 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 contact my healthcare provider?

  • 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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Further information

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