Elbow Bursitis (Olecranon Bursitis)

Elbow Bursitis (Olecranon Bursitis)

What is elbow bursitis?

Elbow bursitis is swelling of the small sacs of fluid (bursae) that help joints move fluidly across the elbow. Elbow bursitis affects the olecranon bursa at the rear of the elbow and is sometimes referred to as Popeye elbow. Inflammation causes swelling and extra fluid to be produced.

A number of things can lead to the development of elbow bursitis.

  • Moderate but repetitive injury is the most common cause. For instance, people who often lean of their elbows create friction and repeated injury (small but harmful)
  • Singular injuries, such as a blow to the back of the elbow, may also cause the onset of elbow bursitis
  • Arthritis can also stimulate the condition, causing the bursae to become inflamed
  • Bursae infection may happen if cut in the skin over a bursae is sustained
  • Some causes are still unknown – in some cases, people have developed the condition for no apparent reason


  • Severe pain – namely in moving the elbow or applying pressure to the elbow
  • Swelling – in the form of a lump at the back of the elbow
  • Redness, warmth, swollen nymph nodes


Treatment for elbow bursitis can vary depending on its severity. In some cases, no treatment is required, with the problem often resolving itself. in most cases treatment will include:

  • Ice or cooling therapy (Physicool) to relieve pain and swelling
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Ultrasound and electrical treatment
  • Steroid injections
  • Painkillers
  • Surgery to remove the defective bursa

The PRICE approach is recommended by NHS Choices:

  • Protection – protect the injured area from further injury – using a support bandage if appropriate
  • Rest – stop the activity that caused the injury, and rest the injured joint or muscle. Avoid activity for the first 48 to 72 hours after injury
  • Ice – for the first 48 to 72 hours after the injury, apply a cooling therapy like Physicool
  • Compression – compress or bandage the injured area to limit any swelling and movement that could damage it further
  • Elevation – keep the injured area raised and supported on a pillow to help reduce swelling Physicool provides the key stages of PRICE in a single reusable bandage, providing protection, cooling and compression for the elbow injury to help the healing process.

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