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Olecranon Bursitis

What is olecranon bursitis?

Olecranon bursitis is a condition that causes inflammation of the olecranon bursa, a small sac of fluid located at the tip of the elbow. The olecranon bursa acts as a cushion between the bone and the skin.

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Who is affected by olecranon bursitis?

Olecranon bursitis can affect people of all ages, but it is most common in adults between the ages of 30 and 50. It is also more common in people who:

  • Participate in activities that put stress on the elbow, such as sports, manual labour, or gardening

  • Have a history of elbow injuries

  • Have certain medical conditions, such as gout or rheumatoid arthritis

What are the main symptoms of olecranon bursitis?

 

The main symptom of olecranon bursitis is pain and swelling at the tip of the elbow. The pain may be worse with activity, especially activities that involve bending the elbow. Other symptoms of olecranon bursitis may include:

Redness and warmth at the tip of the elbow

Decreased range of motion in the elbow

How is olecranon bursitis diagnosed?

Olecranon bursitis is usually diagnosed based on a physical exam and the patient's medical history. The doctor will ask about the patient's symptoms and activities and examine the elbow for pain, swelling, and range of motion limitations. Imaging tests, such as X-rays, ultrasound or MRIs, may be used to rule out other causes of elbow pain. Under ultrasound assessment it is possible to see a well-defined collection of fluid within the bursa, on the tip of the elbow.

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How is olecranon bursitis treated?

 

Treatment for olecranon bursitis typically focuses on relieving pain and inflammation. Non-surgical treatments are often effective. Non-surgical treatments may include:

  • Rest:

    Avoiding activities that aggravate the symptoms.
  • Ice:

    Applying ice to the elbow for 10-15 minutes at a time, several times a day, can help to reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers:

    Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, can help to relieve mild to moderate pain.
  • Aspirating the bursa:

    This procedure involves draining the fluid from the bursa. It is done under ultrasound guidance to ensure accuracy.
  • Corticosteroid injections:

    Corticosteroid injections can be used to reduce inflammation and pain in the bursa.

Corticosteroid injections can be a highly effective way of reducing inflammation and pain in the elbow joint. At The Joint Injection Clinic, corticosteroid injections are performed after a thorough consent process, whereby the risk and benefits of the procedure are discussed in detail with your doctor.  The experienced medical doctor will then place you in a seated position with the elbow resting on the couch.  The elbow is cleaned using a cleaning solution to ensure that the procedure is performed under sterile conditions.  Under ultrasound guidance a needle is placed into the bursa and fluid is aspirated (withdrawn).  Once the fluid has been removed, a small volume of steroid and local anaesthetic is injected in order to prevent immediate reaccumulating of the fluid.

The injection itself is normally completed within 30-60 seconds, after which a plaster is applied and post-injection advice is given.  The patient is advised to look out for any signs of infection, specifically to check whether the local area becomes red, hot, tender, swollen or if they develop a fever.  If this occurs then the patient is asked to contact the clinic immediately at which time a formal reassessment will occur and if needed oral antibiotics can be prescribed.  The patient is also warned that following any injection they may notice a short-term worsening or flare in their symptoms after the local anaesthetic has worn off (4-5 hours).  This may last for 3-5 days and the patient is advised to consider icing of the area using an ice pack for 10-15 minutes every hour as required.

If non-surgical treatments are not effective, surgery may be an option. Surgery for olecranon bursitis typically involves removing the bursa.

Additional tips for managing olecranon bursitis pain:

  • Use a brace or sling to support the elbow and limit movement.
  • Avoid activities that aggravate the symptoms, such as leaning on the elbow or bending the elbow for long periods of time.

If you are experiencing pain and swelling at the tip of your elbow, it is important to see a doctor to get a diagnosis and discuss treatment options. With early diagnosis and treatment, most people with olecranon bursitis can recover fully and return to their normal activities.