Elbow Bursitis

What is elbow bursitis?

Elbow bursitis, also called olecranon bursitis or “Popeye elbow,” is a swelling of the olecranon bursa. The bursa is a sac filled with lubricating fluid, located between tissues such as bone, muscle, tendons, and skin, that decreases rubbing, friction, and irritation. The olecranon bursa is located at the bony tip of each elbow.

A healthy olecranon bursa allows for the skin to slide over the bone as you move your elbow. If the olecranon bursa is inflamed, it can cause pain and swelling on the outside of your elbow.

What causes elbow bursitis?

Elbow bursitis can be caused by:

  • An acute injury to the tip of the elbow
  • Prolonged pressure on the elbow or arm
  • Activities that require repeated twisting or rapid joint movement, which can lead to irritation or inflammation within the bursa
  • Certain diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout

What are the symptoms of elbow bursitis?

Symptoms of elbow bursitis may include:

  • Swelling on the back side of the elbow
  • Pain on the back side of the elbow
  • Sharp pain that progresses to a dull ache
  • Pain that makes activity and sleep difficult
  • Worsening pain when using the elbow

How is elbow bursitis diagnosed?

The diagnostic process starts by talking with you about your symptoms and conducting a detailed physical examination. Diagnostic imaging, including X-rays and MRI scans, can be useful for a diagnosis as well.

How is elbow bursitis treated?

Most people experience relief from elbow bursitis with conservative, nonsurgical treatment. Based on the severity of symptoms, treatment options may include:

  • An elbow pad to protect the bursa from further irritation
  • Anti-inflammatory medicines (such as ibuprofen)
  • Bracing

If nonsurgical treatment is not effective, surgery may be appropriate.

What can I do at home to treat elbow bursitis?

Home treatment for elbow bursitis includes:

  • Rest
  • Avoiding leaning on the elbow
  • Anti-inflammatory medications to relieve pain and swelling
  • Avoiding activities that cause pain


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