Elbow Bursitis

By Sally Ann Quirke, Chartered Physiotherapist | Filed under: Bursitis


Elbow bursitis is very common and very painful! Read on to find out more.

Elbow bursitis is a form of bursitis where there is an inflammation around your elbow. The most common type is medically known as ‘olecronon bursitis’ - in other words, inflammation of your Olecronon bursa, which is a fluid filled cushion like sac (bursa) situated behind the tip of your elbow.

When this becomes inflamed, it often appears like a soft table tennis-like ball at the back of your elbow.

The causes of elbow bursitis are usually a result of overuse of the elbow. It can also occur from excess pressure being placed on the elbow over time. For example, it happened to me when I was studying for my final exams! I was leaning on my right elbow a lot while studying and eventually the result was olecronon bursitis.

Another common presentation that I see is where a manual worker is repetitively extending his elbow daily at his work. A recent example was a carpenter who was repetitively hammering nails into the floors and walls. As a result of this movement his tendons and bursa around the back of his elbow became inflamed. Thankfully, he called to me at an early stage and with rest, ice and exercises he has had a full recovery and is back nailing and sawing away! I also recommended that he now takes regular breaks and varies his working practice to prevent it from re-occurring. I will review him in two months!

Treating Elbow Bursitis

The treatment of elbow bursitis involves treating the bursitis and then removing the cause of the bursitis. Treating the bursitis involves rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medication in most cases. If there is an infection in the bursa, early antibiotic medication is a must. If rest and ice does not settle your bursitis quickly a cortisone injection into the bursa is my advice. Cortisone is a strong anti-inflammatory drug injected directly into the bursa and has usually good results.

If all conservative treatment fails you may have to have your elbow bursa surgically drained. However, I rarely advise this unless all else truly fails.

When talking about the long term treatment of bursitis, identifying cause and prescribing the correct course of treatment to address it is the really the only effective method. A good physiotherapy assessment will identify the cause, for example if there is a muscle imbalance (where one group of muscles in your arm are too weak and others are two strong) causing irritation of your bursae. An exercise programme will be devised specifically for you to resolve the cause of your bursitis.

If the cause of your bursitis is a result of excess pressure on the elbow an elbow padded support will be administered to take the pressure off the bursa as you work. Arthritis and gout can also be the cause of bursitis so, if you are prone to bursitis and have one or both of the two mentioned conditions, do all that you can to avoid a flare up of your arthritis and gout. Prevention is always better than cure! Use alternative therapies also, as they usually help greatly.

So seek an assessment! If you don’’t, your elbow bursitis may re-occur sooner than you think!


While the content and materials contained in the articles on this website have been written & researched by Sally Ann Quirke, a professional, practising & fully qualified Chartered Physiotherapist (Physical Therapist) based in Ireland, they are provided for general information and educational purposes only. They do not constitute medical advice on any particular individual situation. Please see your Chartered Physiotherapist or other medical practitioner for full and individual consultation.

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