care & surgery

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Elbow Swelling (Olecranon Bursitis)

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Overview

Elbow bursitis, also known as olecranon bursitis, occurs when the bursa sac located near the tip of the elbow becomes swollen and filled with excess fluid. In normal circumstances, this sac only contains a small amount of fluid and it acts as a cushion for the elbow tip. Olecranon bursitis is one of the most common locations for bursitis and it can be caused by trauma or long-term pressure on a hard surface.

Symptoms & Signs

Common symptoms and signs of elbow bursitis include:

Swelling at the back of the elbow.

Pain when it first swells, after a direct impact or when the patient rests their elbow on a hard surface while it is swollen.

Hot and red skin over the swollen region.

Fever (occasionally).

Orthopaedic Assessment

At Total Orthopaedic Care & Surgery (TOCS), the orthopaedic assessment would include a detailed history of any symptoms, physical examination, and initial imaging tests such as X-rays. Further imaging with an MRI or ultrasound may also be required to investigate the cause of the elbow swelling.

Treatment Options

Treatment for olecranon bursitis will depend on several factors such as age, cause of symptoms, size of swelling, duration of symptoms and lifestyle impacts. Non-surgical options such as rest, an armsling, ice and anti-inflammatory medications can help relieve pain and speed up recovery. In some cases, a needle may be used to drain fluid from the elbow bursa if it is suspected to be infected. This fluid will then be sent to the laboratory for analysis and antibiotics may be started.  

Surgery

In situations where the bursa does not self-resolve or is infected, surgery may be required. This could involve removing most or all of the bursa tissue. At TOCS, where appropriate, our orthopaedic specialists prefer to perform minimally-invasive excisions (endoscopic excision) of the olecranon bursa. This involves using cameras and shavers to remove the affected tissue.

Conclusion

It is important to follow your orthopaedic specialist’s instructions for treatment and rehabilitation in order to obtain the best possible outcome for your elbow swelling. If you have olecranon bursitis and would like to consider minimally-invasive surgery, do make an appointment with our orthopaedic specialist at TOCS for a detailed assessment of your condition.