Healthy Living

What Is Olecranon Bursitis?

What Is Olecranon Bursitis?

Key Takeaways

  • The olecranon is the bony tip at the back of the elbow. 
  • The bursa is a sac filled with fluid, which is always located between the muscles, tendons, bones, or joints.
  • The bursa located between the skin and the olecranon is called the olecranon bursa.

Whenever a bursa is inflamed and becomes swollen, it causes a lot of pain around the affected area. The condition is called bursitis. The inflammation and swelling of the bursa are the causes of pain. The bursa is a sac filled with fluid, which is always located between the muscles, tendons, bones, or joints.

However, it is important to know that bursitis is an infection that can affect different parts of your body. For this reason, the infection can be classified into different types:

  • Trochanteric bursitis
  • Olecranon bursitis
  • Subacromial bursitis
  • Pes anserine bursitis
  • Iliopsoas bursitis
  • Prepatellar bursitis

All these categories affect different parts of the human body. They also cause different symptoms and can be treated in their own specific way. Let us take a look at olecranon bursitis.

What is olecranon bursitis?

Since bursitis can affect any part of the body where there are bursae, you may have a clue on what type of bursitis you have according to its location. When the affected part is in the olecranon bursa, it is referred to as an olecranon bursitis. The olecranon is the bony tip at the back of the elbow. The bursa located between the skin and the olecranon is called the olecranon bursa.

An olecranon bursa contains a very little amount of synovial fluid. It is meant to act as a cushion and reduce friction between the skin and the olecranon. Once it is affected, it accumulates extra fluid, which causes swelling and pain.

The condition is also referred to as "elbow bursitis" since the olecranon bursa is located around the elbow. Olecranon bursitis can be severe at times and causes serious symptoms if not treated right away. In cases where treatment is delayed, it can swell and develop to 6 cm by 2 cm or 7 cm by 2.5 cm.

Upon such development and swelling around the elbow, it may be so severe that it takes the shape of a ball or an egg, which has made some people refer to it as "ball elbow."

Olecranon bursitis has been further given a number of names such as the "elbow bump", "student’s elbow", "liquid elbow", "Popeye elbow", or "gamer’s elbow."

Causes of Olecranon Bursitis 

The following are a number of things that can lead to the development of olecranon bursitis.

  • Infection - in case there is an infection that has infected your bursa, then it is possible to experience swelling and pain. Most of these infections are those brought about by bacteria. Infection happens when you have a cut on the skin around the bursa or any opening. The infection should be treated early before the fluid turns into pus.
  • Blood-borne type of infection - happens when the infection is in the blood. Since blood circulates all over the body, such infection may reach the bursa and triggers inflammation and swelling. Apart from the infection directly targeting the bursa, there are other infections that will easily cause swelling. If you have an infection around the olecranon bursa, it might easily cause bursitis.
  • Trauma - happens when you experience a direct hard blow around the tip of your elbow. Such injury may come as a result of falling, which causes swelling and pain of the bursa. Trauma will mostly be accompanied by internal bleeding or in other cases, a fluid buildup that leads to bursitis.
  • Pressure - is also referred to as a "prolonged injury", where the elbow is slowly damaged over time. It is caused by subjecting the elbow to excess pressure. This condition is common to people who work on hard benches for a long time. 
  • Overuse of the elbow - results from the excessive movement of the elbow. In most cases, overuse of the elbow happens to people who are active in sports such as tennis players, weightlifters, baseball players, and javelin throwers. 
  • Health conditions - there are a number of health conditions that can cause bursitis. They include arthritis and gout.

Other causes of olecranon bursitis may involve unknown injuries, where you unknowingly get injured and the injury is left untreated.

Symptoms

You will feel pain when you have a bursitis attack. It starts with a little pain, especially when you move your elbow. With time, the pain increases, which will make it difficult for you to move your elbow.

As the infection advances, the outer part of the skin starts turning red. It is a symptom that if not treated in time, the infection can easily spread to other parts of the body, which can cause other illnesses to develop 

You may also experience fever, and when you touch your skin around the elbow, it feels warm.

The skin around the elbow also becomes swollen due to a fluid increase around the olecranon bursa. It is also the first symptom of olecranon bursitis. If the condition is not attended to right away, the swelling gets bigger, which can easily be recognized from a distance.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of olecranon bursitis will start with a person's medical history. The doctor will ask you certain questions regarding your medical history, specifically about the symptoms you are experiencing. Your medical history is crucial to help rule out the possibilities of other infections. If you visit a doctor early enough, the infection can be diagnosed through a physical examination.

  • Lab tests - These are tests done if a physical examination fails to identify the infection. A doctor can take a sample of your synovial fluid to test any other infection such as rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Imaging - Your doctor can also use imaging machines such as an X-ray to rule out fracture of the bones. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is also used. It is an important step that also helps to rule out the possibility of other infections surrounding the bones and joints.

Treatment

  • Use of steroids - In this case, a steroid injection is used. Steroids can help reduce inflammation.
  • Aspiration - is a rather painful procedure. It is used to remove excess fluid from the bursa to reduce swelling and pain. The fluid is sucked by a needle and syringe.
  • Use of anti-inflammatory drugs - drugs may include naproxen, diclofenac, or ibuprofen.
  • Antibiotics - if bursitis is due to a bacterial infection, you can use antibiotics. Antibiotics are used to kill harmful bacteria that cause the infection.
  • Surgery - is obviously the last option if the swelling still persists. A doctor will perform a surgery to remove the fluid in the bursa.

The Bottom Line

Bursitis is a mild infection that can be successfully treated if it is done early enough. However, it is important to take necessary precautions since the condition can cause serious effects if not treated in the right time. It is also common to older people as a result of weak bones and joints.

Olecranon bursitis a condition that can be prevented. Use protective pads to prevent injuries when doing difficult jobs. Avoid subjecting the elbow to excess pressure. Moreover, it is also wise to treat any type of injury around the elbow on time.