Elbow Bursitis Treatment

Elbow bursitis is a condition technically known as ‘olecranon bursitis’ but which also goes by the names ‘student’s elbow’ and ‘baker’s elbows’. The condition results in a very pronounced swelling that results in a bulge poking outwards from the back of the elbow. Often this is accompanied by pain and it can make some movements difficult. Here we will look at the causes of elbow bursitis and how to treat it.

Causes of Elbow Bursitis

Elbow bursitis is caused by the bursa. This bursa is like other bursae that exist in the joints around the body – a small fluid filled sac that is lined by a synovial membrane. The purpose of bursae is to act as a cushion between bones, tendons and muscle around a joint. This can reduce the friction with bones and enables freer movement. In forms of bursitis, these bursae become inflamed and thus produce more fluid than usual resulting in the large amount of swelling. Hence elbow bursitis is sometimes referred to as ‘fluid on the elbow’.

This inflammation meanwhile is usually the result of one large injury, or multiple smaller injuries to the elbow. It gets its name because of the tendency for students to lean on their elbows while writing or reading at the table which can result in the bursitis. Likewise leaning on your elbows while typing on a computer can be just as likely to cause bursitis, as can other repetitive movements such as golf or tennis. The chances of developing bursitis increases as you reach older age.

Treatment for Elbow Bursitis

The treatment for elbow bursitis involves resting the area while preventing further injury. This means identifying the repetitive movement that may have caused your bursitis and ceasing this activity for a while. Likewise you may opt to take other forms of stress off of your elbow and you can achieve this in several ways – such as by wearing a sling which will allow you to rest your arm (and will stop people asking you to lift things for them). Avoid any stressful activities such as rounds of golf.

Usually medical intervention is limited, though they may recommend taking an anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen which can reduce swelling. You can also help to reduce the swelling yourself other ways, such as by keeping your elbow above your heart level to encourage it to drain, or by using a cold compress. Don’t use ice directly against the skin however, and be sure not to use it for more than 20 minutes which can damage the skin and other tissue.

In some rare cases the elbow bursitis will not clear up on its own and the pain will be distracting. In this case you have several options. The most common is aspiration which involves draining the bursa with a syringe. Another is to inject the bursa with corticosteroids or to use topical NSAIDs. Lastly in the most severe cases it is possible to opt for surgery in order to have the lump completely removed. It takes around 10 to 14 days for the damage to grow back to normal size.


Following this, it is very important to prevent the recurrence of elbow bursitis. You need to make sure that you identify the cause of the bursitis early on so that you may address it. Otherwise it is possible to cause scarring to the bursa which will cause inflammation to occur more regularly as well as other possible complications such as infection or arthritis.

To prevent elbow bursitis you first and foremost need to identify the cause of the problem. For sports related injuries the best course of action is to start using a support that will help to support the joint and muscles and prevent damage. For those that result from leaning on one arm, you can simply alter your posture – or use some kind of padding in order to rest your elbow on.

1 Comment

  1. More painful than I thought — on fourth day now, ice-packs help a little!

    Article is good, more basic information, aligns with other sites — Thanks!

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