The bursa is a fluid filled sac which lubricates parts of the body where friction is prone to occur. When the bursa becomes inflamed, it is referred to as “bursitis”, a condition which causes discomfort. Between the skin and the point of the elbow lies the olecranon bursa.  If the olecranon bursa becomes irritated, pain can build up gradually; the onset can also be  sudden and severe. This condition is referred to as elbow bursitis.


This type of bursitis is most often caused by repetitive movements, like resting body weight on the elbows for extended periods of time. Elbow Bursitis is sometimes referred to as “Student’s Elbow”, as it can occur from too much leaning on the elbows while studying. It can also be diagnosed in those whose job requires working on computers for many hours a day. Other common causes of Elbow Bursitis are:

  • Playing racquet sports or golf
  • Direct, minor or serious impact to the tip of the elbow
  • Infection, rheumatoid arthritis or gout

The probability of developing this condition increases with age.


Signs and symptoms of Elbow Bursitis can include:

• Mild to severe pain, both sudden and gradual

• Visible swelling in the elbow which can restrict motion (also known as “Popeye Elbow”)

• Pain originates in the elbow joint but radiates to the rest of the arm

• If infection is the cause, redness and heat may be present

• The infected bursa may spontaneously open and drain pus


Conservative treatment involves icing, compression, and resting the elbow from the activity that caused the aggravation. The presence of infection may require draining of the bursa. If repeated attempts do not stop the fluid in the bursa from forming, removal of the bursa may be necessary, however, it will regrow at a normal size after 10 to 14 days. Muscle or ligaments are left untouched with this type of surgery.

Elbow pain that is restricting activity, shows signs of infection or is becoming debilitating should be seen by a physician. Contact Dr. Madsen at Madsen Orthopedics for a diagnosis and treatment of Elbow Bursitis.

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