What is olecranon bursitis?
Bursa are thin sacs that contain lubrication and that act as cushions between bones and soft tissues. The olecranon bursa lies between the skin and the pointy bone at the back of the elbow (olecranon). Normally, the olecranon bursa is flat, but if it becomes inflamed, it will swell. Elbow bursitis can occur due to trauma, prolonged pressure, infection, rheumatoid arthritis or gout. Leaning on the tip of the elbow for long periods of time may cause the bursa to swell over several months. This is common in mechanics, plumbers or HVAC technicians. If an injury at the tip of the elbow breaks the skin, bacteria may get inside and cause an infection. The infected bursa produces fluid, redness, swelling, and pain. If the infection goes untreated, the fluid may turn to pus.
What are the symptoms?
- Swelling and pain over the back of the elbow, worse with direct pressure or with bending the elbow.
- Restricted elbow motion
- If the bursitis is infected, the skin becomes very red and warm, and you may develop a fever.
What medical tests will I need?
- X-Rays: to rule out any abnormal bone structures or foreign bodies that might be causing your symptoms. It is common for people with recurrent bursitis to have a bone spur on the tip of the elbow.
How is it treated?
- Activity modification: avoid resting your elbow on a hard surface for long periods of time.
- Elbow pads: to cushion your elbow You should avoid direct pressure to your swollen elbow.
- Anti-inflammatory Medications: these reduce swelling and pain.
- Aspiration: only if there is an infection, your doctor might sample the fluid with a needle. You will also be given an antibiotic. If the bursa is not infected, aspiration may actually cause an infection.
- Surgery: if other treatments do not work, or if there is infection not responding to antibiotics, it may be removed.
What do I need to know about surgery?
- You will be contacted within 2 weeks of your pre-op appointment for pricing and scheduling.
- The surgery will last less than 45 minutes and you will go home the same day.
- Your surgeon will make an incision that curves around the back side of your elbow
- You will wear a soft bulky dressing that will allow you to move your elbow to avoid stiffness.
- There are no lifting restrictions after this surgery.
- At your 2 week follow up visit, the sutures and bandage will be removed, and you will begin scar massage.
- You may require occupational therapy after surgery to help restore your range of motion.