An Overview of Elbow Bursitis
You might be suffering from elbow bursitis if:
- You have sharp pain at the tip of your elbow.
- You have lump on the back of your elbow.
- You have loss of range of motion bending and straightening the elbow causes more pain.
- You have warmth, redness and swelling on the elbow.
If any of those statements are true for you or you're suffering from on-going pain in your elbow then you might have an injury called "elbow bursitis" - medically, known as olecranon bursitis.
Many people don't know that elbow bursitis is a very real and painful injury affecting the bursa sac in your elbow. It can happen to anyone who regularly puts stress with repetitive arm movements as part of your job, sports related activities, acute trauma to the elbow and/or aging weakness the tissue around the elbow and the bursa.
Elbow bursitis is one of those injuries that can really bring down the quality of your life. Anyone - young or old - can suffer from this injury, and if you're active this condition will keep you from doing the things you love to do. It will even start interrupting any of your normal daily tasks and make living life harder than it really needs to be.
What is Elbow Bursitis?
The olecranon bursa (just below the skin) is exposed to trauma or injury during falls on the elbow and to infection from scrapes or cuts on the skin covering the joint.
Repeated excessive pressure and/or friction, such as leaning on a table top at work, may cause this bursa to become inflamed producing excessive swelling and elbow pain in this area.
Subtendinous olecranon bursitis is much less common. This type of elbow bursitis results from excessive friction between the triceps tendon and olecranon. This may result, for example, from repeated flexion-extension of the forearm which occurs during certain assembly line jobs, and is one of many repetitive motion type injuries. The pain is most severe during the flexion of the forearm because of pressure exerted on the inflamed subtendinous olecranon bursa by the triceps tendon.
What Causes Elbow (Olecranon) Bursitis?
There are a number of things that can indirectly cause bursitis such as repetitive use or overuse from work or sporting activities, a cut or injury to the elbow, acute injuries, and aging. Over the years your muscles will start to lose their mass and strength, your tissues will lose their elasticity and degenerate, making you more susceptible to injury. Weakened muscles and/or tendons or injuries to your elbow, wrist, forearm or shoulder can instigate bursitis. You are at increased risk of suffering from this condition if your work and/or lifestyle require repetitive use of your elbow.
Trauma to the elbow and olecranon bursa causes inflammation of the elbow bursa, resulting in a widening of the blood vessels. This widening allows proteins and various fluids into the bursae that are not supposed to be there, resulting in swelling. Until these foreign materials leave the bursa or are broken down by the bursa's defense system, the swelling and pain will remain.
Acute trauma to the elbow means a direct blow to the elbow. In such cases, blood may leak into the bursa of the elbow and cause swelling and pain.
Chronic trauma will occur if there is mild trauma to the elbow that occurs repetitively. For instance, a hard elbow rest while driving frequently or straining the elbow frequently while throwing darts.
What are the Symptoms of Elbow Bursitis?
The symptoms of olecranon bursitis are similar to the symptoms of bursitis that occur in other joints of the body; pain, limited range of motion, weakness, difficulties sleeping, swelling and tenderness, and possibly a fever if the bursa is infected.
If you are suffering from olecranon bursitis you will usually be experiencing the following conditions:
Swelling: A lump at the back of the elbow is usually the first sign of elbow bursitis. Once swelling is noticed it is advisable that you begin cold treatments to reduce swelling and inflammation and see your doctor to rule out infectious bursitis.
Redness, Warmth, and Tenderness: If there is a cut or scrape on the elbow near the bursa, bacteria may enter the bursa and cause it to become infected. Signs of septic bursitis include redness, warmth, tenderness, and usually a fever. If you have these symptoms be sure to see a doctor promptly so he/she can prescribe antibiotics.
Although you may experience bursitis without pain, elbow bursitis can cause pain at the tip of the elbow because the bursa pushes on nerve endings around the joint. Pain increases when bending and straightening the elbow or pushing directly on the bursa.
As the bursa swells a visible bump becomes obvious at the tip of the elbow. Inside the elbow, the enlarged bursa decreases the space for the bone joints to move freely during flexion and extension. This limits the range of motion in the elbow and can prevent you from doing daily tasks easily.
Elbow bursitis causes pain at the back of the elbow joint that increases when pressure is placed on the elbow (i.e. leaning on a table). Elbow bursitis is also referred to as olecranon bursitis, dialysis elbow, student's elbow, water on the elbow, swellbow, dart thrower's elbow, lunger's elbow, or miner's elbow.
How Do I Diagnose Elbow Bursitis?
The best way to diagnose this condition is with a quick visit to the your doctor for a physical examination of your elbow. They will inquire about the intensity of your present pain, the duration of your symptoms and the limitations you are experiencing. Details about what instigated the problem, when it started, and whether or not you have ever had treatments for this or a similar condition in the past, are very helpful in assessing your injury.
Are you having trouble using or moving your arm and elbow?
You will generally be asked to complete a series of movements to measure your active (performed by you) and passive (performed by your examiner) range of motion. These movements will test for range of motion, arm/elbow strength, joint stability, and location of tenderness. If you feel sharp pain with both of these motions you may have elbow bursitis and/or other related conditions.
A physical examination will be performed to determine if you have signs of elbow bursitis or a different elbow injury. He/she may visually assess and palpate (feel) the bones and soft tissue in both your elbows to evaluate symmetry to recognize differences. This will identify abnormalities, such as mild or severe inflammation, bone deformities, atrophied muscles, redness and/or warmth on the skin.
Sometimes, one set of symptoms can result in multiple diagnoses. An x-ray or MRI is often needed in order to diagnose if the elbow is out of alignment or the extent of the soft tissue damage. Your doctor will be able to determine if infection is the possible cause of your bursitis and furthermore find out if the bursitis is septic - a potentially very serious condition.
Are You Sure It Is Elbow Bursitis?
Pain, swelling and inflammation in your elbow could mean that you have bursitis. It's also important to consider that there are other conditions that might cause pain and swelling in the elbow as well. Visiting your doctor when you have elbow pain is always recommended, as there are many possible issues that can happen within the arm and elbow. Sometimes, one set of symptoms can result in multiple diagnoses.
Some other similar injuries of the elbow include: infection, crystal deposits in the elbow, and elbow or forearm tendinitis.
- Infection (Septic Bursitis). The closer the bursa is to the surface of the skin, the more likely the chance of infection from specific bacteria that are commonly found on the surface of the skin. This bacterial infection is known as septic bursitis and it is caused by the Staphylococcus Epidermis (or Staphylococcus Aureus) bacteria. Septic Bursitis occurs most commonly in men (85% of all cases occur in men) and you are at higher risk of contracting this if you
- have Diabetes
- have recently experienced trauma
- are undergoing steroid treatments
- have a certain kidney condition
- Crystal Deposits. Some people with diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout or scleroderma may contract bursitis from crystalline deposits in the joints. Although not much is known about how this process happens, it is common knowledge that Uric acid is a normal byproduct of daily metabolism. If your are diagnosed with gout then you are unable to break down this uric acid properly, leading to crystallization of this excess acid which deposits in joints, a painful symptom that can often lead to bursitis.
Elbow / Forearm Tendonitis. There are 2 common tendonitis injuries that usually result in elbow and forearm pain: Tennis Elbow (lateral epicondylitis) and Golfer's Elbow (medial epicondylitis). In both cases pain, swelling and inflammation will be felt around the bony part of the elbow. With tennis elbow, pain will be felt on the outside of the elbow, while pain is felt on the inside of the elbow with golfer's elbow. The tendons attached to the bone at your elbow are connected to muscles in your forearm, which is why these injuries will sometimes cause pain in your forearm. These injuries are usually caused by racket sports, golf and overuse from gardening and repetitive movements of your hand or wrist (ie. using a screwdriver).
Wondering How To Treat Olecranon Bursitis?
We Have Answers that can Help...
The goal of this website is to give people hope that there are medically proven conservative treatments available for elbow bursitis injuries. There is a lot of conflicting information posted on-line and we make it a priority to separate the fact from fiction.
We can give you the information you need to understand how to use temperature therapy (at home) to relieve bursitis pain, recover from soft tissue injuries more quickly and reduce your risk of overcompensation and re-injury. If you want to discuss options with one of our trained AidMyBursa Advisers call our office toll-free at 1-866-237-9608 or Internationally at +1-705-532-1671.
There is no cost or obligation to this service.
We all want to begin healing as quickly as possible and with the right information, it can happen sooner than you think (it has for thousands of others who took the time to contact us).
You can be assured we will do our best to answer assist your with questions or concerns you may have. Living with bursitis and/or tendonitis is never easy and we can help to provide answers about prevention, causes, treatment options, and ways to manage your injury for the short and long term.
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