Elbow bursitis, also called olecranon bursitis, causes fluid to collect in a sac that lies behind the elbow, called the olecranon bursa. A bursa is a slippery, sac-like tissue that normally allows smooth movement around bony prominences, such as the point behind the elbow. When a bursa becomes inflamed, the sac fills with fluid. This can cause pain and a noticeable swelling behind the elbow.

Olecranon Bursitis

Why did I get elbow bursitis?

Elbow bursitis may follow a traumatic accident, such as a fall onto the back of the elbow, or it may seemingly pop up out of nowhere. People who rest their elbows on hard surfaces may aggravate the condition and make the swelling more prominent.

How is the diagnosis of elbow bursitis made?

The common symptoms of elbow bursitis include:

  • Pain around the back of the elbow
  • Swelling directly over the bony prominence of the tip of the elbow
  • Slightly limited motion of the elbow

There are other conditions that can cause elbow pain and swelling, and these should also be considered as a possible diagnosis. Your doctor can usually diagnose elbow bursitis on examination, but an x-ray will often be done to ensure the elbow joint itself appears normal. A MRI is not necessary to diagnose elbow bursitis, and will only be done if there is uncertainty about the diagnosis.

Are the complications of elbow bursitis?

Occasionally, the swelling and inflammation can be the result of an infection within the bursa, this is called infected elbow bursitis. Patients with systemic inflammatory conditions, such as gout and rheumatoid arthritis, are also at increased risk of developing infected elbow bursitis.

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