The elbow allows us the capability to perform numerous movements, such as lifting and throwing. The elbow is considered to be a complex joint; that is, it is formed by three distinct bones. These are the radius, the ulna, and the humerus. Each has a certain amount of cartilage on the end. This aids in absorbing shock and helps the three bones slide against one another, with ease. These are held in place by ligaments, which are strong tissues.

In addition to this, tendons connect to each of the bones involved in the elbow. These – in turn – connect to the muscles. There are several nerves and various types of blood vessels that connect at and go through the elbow, too. Should an issue develop with any of these parts, you may experience issues with the range of motion of the elbow, inflammation, and pain. One of the main complications experienced by individuals is elbow bursitis. In this guide, you will be presented with basic information about this condition.

Elbow Bursitis Xray
Elbow Bursitis Photo Source

What is Olecranon Bursitis?

Olecranon Bursitis is an irritation or a type of inflammation of the olecranon bursa of the elbow that results in an increased and abnormal level of fluid accumulation in the bursa. This issue typically limits the amount of movement associated with the arm and/or elbow and causes moderate to severe pain.

What is the Olecranon Bursa?

The Olecranon Bursa is a small and relatively thin sac that is fluid-filled that is situated at the boney-based tip in the elbow. This is referred to as the “olecranon”. It aids in providing cushioning between the soft tissues and the bones located within the region and allowing for the free movements of the tissue over the bone. It normally appears as thin and/or flat.

What are the Symptoms of Elbow Bursitis?

If the olecranon bursa sac becomes irritated and/or inflamed, many symptoms may develop. The following are the most common:

  • Elbow Pain – Pain in the elbow is often experienced before any other symptom, but does not necessarily have to occur first. This is often described as “aching”, “dull”, or “general discomfort”. It most often occurs when the elbow is bent or when the arm is straightened.
  • Tenderness – Experiencing tenderness in and around the elbow is commonly experienced in olecranon bursitis. Tenderness is a type of pain that is experienced when the affected area is touched.
  • Swelling – As stated previously, this particular bursa is thin and/or flat. If bursitis develops, it will start to swell as the fluid increases in the area. This often results in an enlargement. The sufferer can usually feel this through the skin or it may be seen through the skin, if it gets large enough. If this gets large enough, the bursa may actually rupture. In turn, this could cause swelling to be noticeably present from the elbow down into the forearm.
  • Flexing Issues – In a lot of cases, joint movement is not limited when olecranon bursitis occurs; however, in the really severe instances, the bursa may become so swollen that it becomes very difficult for the sufferer to straighten out their arm and problems may develop in the ability to appropriately and easily flex the arm.
  • Skin Discoloration – In severe cases of elbow bursitis or when a septic form of bursitis occurs, the skin immediately over the affected bursa may become discolored. In most instances, it will be a light-colored pink or a shade of red.
  • Warm Skin – Due to the excess fluid, the skin over the bursa will be much warmer to the touch than that of other areas of the skin.
  • Fever – In some cases, a fever may develop. This is often accompanied with chills. This may or may not happen with standard bursitis. It is most commonly associated with septic forms of bursitis of the elbow.

What is Septic Bursitis?

Now that you have read the symptoms of elbow bursitis, we feel it is important to stop and mention septic bursitis since it was mentioned in the symptoms section. This is – simply put – an infected bursa. In this case, it would be the infected bursa of the elbow. This is a serious medical condition. If you feel as if you have developed septic bursitis of the elbow, you should immediately seek medical attention. If treatment is not sought, the infection could spread and cause serious illness and potentially death.

What Causes Elbow Olecranon Bursitis?

The standard cause is irritation and/or inflammation; however, for the purpose and intent of answering this question, we will expound on the causes behind the irritation and inflammation in outlining the causes of olecranon bursitis:

  • Trauma – If the elbow receives a blow or a person experiences a fall that impacts the elbow, the bursa will become filled with blood. In turn, this irritates the membrane of the bursa and may result in bursitis.
  • Repetition – Engaging in repetitive movements or inducing repetitive strain on the elbow could result in the development of bursitis.
  • Bouts of Inflammation – If an individual has experienced an inflamed bursa in the past, they may – once again -experience the issue in the future.
  • Infection – If the fluid in a bursa becomes infected, septic bursitis may develop.
  • Underlying Health Conditions – If one has underlying health issues such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, or even gout, they have a higher risk of developing elbow olecranon bursitis. This risk is often related to the issue itself, but can also stem from the medications that the individual is using to treat the condition.

What is the Elbow Bursitis Recovery Time?

In most instances, elbow bursitis will heal in anywhere from 2 to 8 weeks; however, this varies from person to person. Other factors that directly impact healing time include if the patient engages in proper management of the inflammation, if they perform strengthening exercises, and if they stretch appropriately.

What is the Best Olecranon Bursitis Treatment?

Treatment methods are dependent upon numerous factors. If septic bursitis is suspected, medical treatment/intervention will be required. For this article, we will focus on non-surgical methods of treatment, supposing that only olecranon bursitis is being experienced and no infection is present. Generally speaking, physical therapy is the absolute best olecranon bursitis treatment. It may include the following:

  1. The Integration of the R.I.C.E Formula – This formula encourages resting the elbow, icing the elbow, compressing it, and elevating the impacted joint. This may be done with a physical therapist and at home.
  2. Elbow Pad – These specially-designed products are worn on the affected elbow to help in providing additional cushioning and avoid the exacerbation of symptoms.
  3. Stretching and Other Exercises – Once a medical professional has treated the elbow bursitis with non-medical interventions (such as rest and elevation), and the initial symptoms have subsided, stretching and other exercises may be encouraged.

What Does a Physical Therapist Do for Elbow Bursitis?

A physical therapist will work with a patient who is suffering from bursitis in many ways. Mainly, they will encourage stretching and strengthening exercises. These are designed to help in restoring the tone to the muscles of the arms and improving the range of motion so that it returns to normal.

In most instances, patients are advised to start a physical therapy program only after swelling is completely gone. If this is not done, the symptoms may start to flare up again and it may cause more harm than good. Once it is safe to initiate, a physical therapist will create a personalized care plan that is based on the patient’s medical history and the underlying cause of olecranon bursitis.

man treating injured tennis elbow

What Types of Professionals Treat Bursitis?

Physicians are capable of treating elbow bursitis. In addition to this and physical therapists, physiatrists, orthopedic surgeons, and sports medicine professionals specialize in the treatment of bursitis.

How is Olecranon Bursitis Diagnosed?

In nearly all instances, an x-ray is used to examine the elbow joint and surrounding bones. Blood tests may be ordered to determine if there is an infection present in the body. Many medical professionals may remove fluid from the bursa with a special type of needle and have that fluid tested.

When Should I See a Doctor with Elbow Bursitis?

If you have elbow bursitis, the following indicates that it is time to consult a medical professional:

  • If you start experiencing disabling pain of the elbow joint, you should see a doctor.
  • If you are suddenly unable to move the joint, medical attention should be sought.
  • The development of a fever indicates a potential medical emergency.
  • If the area starts to swell up in an excessive manner, a rash or bruising develops, and/or severe redness develops, you need to be seen by a doctor.
  • If -when exercising or exerting yourself – you start having very sharp and/or shooting pain, seek help.

Contact Us Today

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with elbow olecranon bursitis, we can help you recover! We will create a customized treatment plan that improves mobility and strength of the joint, which will help in the healing process. For more information, contact us here at Back to Motion by calling: 303-832-5577

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