Olecranon Bursitis / Elbow Bursitis

The bony point on the back of the elbow is known as the olecranon. There is a sac (bursa) between the olecranon and the mobile skin overlying it. This bursa is filled with a small amount of fluid, and helps lubricate the skin so that it moves freely over the bone. Prolonged pressure or a fall on the tip of the elbow can cause inflammation of this bursa. Fluid can accumulate, causing pain and discomfort. This is known as olecranon bursitis.

Patients with olecranon bursitis may notice swelling over the tip of their elbow. Initially this may be relatively mild, but as the bursitis worsens, the fluid collection enlarges. This can cause pain and can even restrict motion.

In most patients, olecranon bursitis can be treated without surgery. A cushioned elbow pad and changing activities may relieve pressure on the elbow and allow the bursitis to resolve on its own. Oral anti-inflammatory medications help as well. If the bursitis persists despite these measures, then fluid can be removed from the bursa and a corticosteroid injection can be administered. Surgical removal of the bursa is reserved for patients who fail these non-operative treatments, and is an outpatient procedure.

Some patients may sustain a cut or scrape to the olecranon bursa which causes an infection to develop. If antibiotics fail to clear the infection, then surgery may be required to remove the infected bursa.

Further information on this injury can be found in this handout, or on the AAOS OrthoInfo website, an orthopaedic resource center providing expert information.