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Elbow Bursitis

Elbow Bursitis

What is Elbow Bursitis?

Elbow bursitis is a painful condition that occurs when the olecranon bursa in the elbow becomes swollen and inflamed.

A bursa is a small sac that secretes a lubricating liquid called synovial fluid which reduces friction between tissues, acts as a cushion between the muscles, tendons, and bones, and helps lubricate the joints to move freely.

There are more than 150 bursae in the human body. Bursitis can occur in many parts of the body, but often occurs near joints that perform frequent repetitive motion, like the shoulder, elbow and hip.

Causes | Symptoms | Treatment | Prevention

What Causes Elbow Bursitis?

The most common cause of elbow bursitis is long-term repetitive movements or positions (whether from your job or hobby) that put pressure on the elbow joint. 

In fact, elbow bursitis is often nicknamed student’s elbow, as leaning on the elbow at a desk for long periods of time is a common cause of bursitis among students.

Other risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing elbow bursitis include:

  • Previous surgery or injury to the elbow
  • Trauma, such as a hard fall or blow to the elbow
  • Bacterial infection, called septic bursitis
  • Inflammatory autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, lupus, and gout
  • Thyroid conditions
  • Bone spurs from osteoarthritis
  • Age – anyone can develop bursitis, but it becomes more common with aging

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Elbow Bursitis?

Elbow bursitis causes swelling, tenderness and pain in areas around the elbow joint, including tendons, ligaments, bursae and muscles.

Depending on the cause of your elbow bursitis, signs and symptoms may include:

  • A noticeable lump over your elbow
  • Stiffness in the elbow
  • Sharp shooting pain or pain that gets worse when you move your elbow or press on it
  • Restricted range of motion
  • Red and warm elbow with or without a fever and chills, if the cause of your elbow bursitis is due to infection

Concerned about symptoms of elbow bursitis? Book an assessment with a physiotherapist today.

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How is Elbow Bursitis Treated?

Treatments for elbow bursitis can include:

  • Applying ice, resting your elbow, and avoiding activities
  • Physiotherapy
  • Medications, including:
    • Topical medications such as creams, sprays, gels or patches
    • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), either prescribed, or over-the-counter, such as Advil, Motrin or Aleve
    • Antibiotics (if your elbow bursitis is caused by an infection)
  • Draining a swelled bursa of excess fluid with a needle and syringe which can then be tested at a lab to determine if the bursa is infected
  • Corticosteroid injections to relieve pain and inflammation (only if the cause is not due to infection)
  • Surgery

Surgical removal of a bursa is very rare. If surgery is necessary after other less invasive treatments have not helped, physiotherapy is an important part of rehabilitation. 

The bursa usually grows back as a non-inflamed, normally functioning bursa over several months.

Physiotherapy for Elbow Bursitis

Physiotherapy is a drug-free and non-surgical treatment that focuses on reducing pain and swelling, regaining strength, increasing joint mobility and function, and preventing recurrence.

At pt Health, you’ll receive a thorough assessment which addresses the source of your problem.

Depending on your individual needs, physiotherapy for elbow bursitis can include:

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Can Elbow Bursitis Go Away on Its Own?

Depending on the cause, elbow bursitis can get better on its own within a few weeks with at-home treatments in conjunction with modifying your daily habits, including:

  • Applying heat and cold therapy appropriately
  • Resting your elbow between workouts and repetitive tasks (only resume these activities once pain and swelling are under control)
  • Avoiding actions that put stress or pressure on your elbow, like picking up and lifting heavy loads or writing
  • Using assistive devices such as a brace or wearing an elbow pad to cushion your elbow

However, repeated flare-ups are common, so if the above measures don’t resolve your symptoms, you may want to consult a physiotherapist for a custom treatment plan to address your unique concerns.

Can You Prevent Elbow Bursitis?

There are steps you can take to prevent or reduce the chance of developing elbow bursitis, including:

  • Exercising regularly, including stretching exercises such as yoga or tai chi (at least 30 minutes every day)
  • Warming up before exercising or playing sports, and cooling down afterward
  • Eating an anti-inflammatory diet (avoiding processed and refined foods and sugar)
  • Maintaining a healthy weight (which reduces joint strain and pain, and increases mobility and energy)

Book a Physiotherapy Consult for Elbow Bursitis Today

Concerned about symptoms of elbow bursitis? Book an assessment with a physiotherapist today.

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