Elbow (Olecranon) Bursitis

The Common Culprit Behind Your Swollen Elbow

Elbow bursitis, often referred to as “student’s elbow” or “baker’s elbow,” is a condition that arises when the bursa—a small, fluid-filled sac located at the tip of the elbow—becomes inflamed. This bursa acts as a cushion between bones and soft tissues, reducing friction and allowing smooth movement. When it becomes swollen, it can lead to discomfort and hinder normal elbow function.

This condition is commonly seen in individuals who frequently lean on their elbows, hence the nickname “student’s elbow,” as well as in those engaged in repetitive elbow movements. It’s not just limited to students and bakers; anyone can develop elbow bursitis from a variety of causes including trauma from a fall onto the elbow, prolonged pressure from leaning, or even an infection if the bursa is punctured.

Symptoms of elbow bursitis include swelling at the back of the elbow, pain, and tenderness, especially when leaning on the elbow or moving it. The swollen area may also feel warm to the touch. In cases where the bursitis is due to an infection, redness and fever might also be present.

Diagnosis typically involves a physical examination, and in some cases, fluid may be drawn from the bursa for testing, especially if an infection is suspected. Imaging tests like X-rays or MRIs are not usually necessary but can help rule out other conditions.

We Can Help
Treatment for elbow bursitis often starts with conservative methods such as rest, ice, and elevation to reduce swelling and discomfort. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help manage pain. If the bursitis is caused by an infection, antibiotics might be required. In more persistent cases, a doctor may drain the bursa or recommend corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation. Surgery is rare but may be considered if other treatments are ineffective.

Preventive measures include avoiding prolonged pressure on the elbows and using protective gear during activities that put stress on the elbow. With proper care and treatment, most people recover from elbow bursitis without long-term issues.