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What is bursitis?

Elbow bursitis is inflammation of the bursa in the bony tip of the elbow. A bursa, a thin, fluid-filled sac, acts as a cushion between bones and skin. The bursa contains a small amount of fluid that allows the tissues to move freely over the underlying bone.


What are the causes of bursitis?

The common causes of bursitis includes: 

  • Trauma. An injury to the elbow can cause swelling of the bursa.

  • Prolonged pressure. Leaning on the tip of the elbow for an extended period on hard surfaces, such as a desktop, may cause the bursa to swell.

  • Infection. If an elbow injury breaks the skin, bacteria may enter the bursa sac and cause an infection.

  • Medical conditions. Rheumatoid arthritis and gout are associated with elbow bursitis.


Symptoms of bursitis

The severity of symptoms varies significantly from patient to patient. Some patient's symptoms are not constant and may come and go. Symptoms of golfer’s elbow may include: 

  • Pain in the back of the elbow.

  • Swelling on the skin of the back of the elbow.

  • Redness and warmth to the touch are caused by infection of the bursa. 


When should I seek medical help?

You should consult your doctor if you experience the following:

  • Severe pain, swelling and bruising around the elbow

  • Unable to move your elbow normally

  • Elbow pain does not improve after home care

  • Pain that occurs even when you are resting your arm

  • Increasing redness, swelling or pain in the injured area



To diagnose elbow bursitis, your doctor will consider your case history and past medical history. They will check to see if it is tender in any area or whether there is a deformity. To measure the range of motion of your elbow, your doctor will have you move your elbow in different directions. Other investigations that can confirm your diagnosis include fluid testing whereby a sample of bursal fluid will be taken to identify the cause of bursitis.


If infection is not the cause, the following treatments are advised:

  • Elbow pads. Place an elbow pad or cushion under your elbow to reduce pressure.

  • Activity changes. Avoid activities that cause stress to your elbow.

  • Medications. Oral medications such as ibuprofen can reduce swelling and relieve pain.


If an infection is the cause of bursitis, antibiotics will be prescribed to fight the infection.

Your doctor may recommend surgery if bursitis does not improve after medication and other nonsurgical treatments. The goal of the surgery is to remove the bursa altogether.


Prevention of bursitis of the elbow

Here are some examples of ways to prevent bursitis in the elbow:

  • Avoid leaning onto your elbow

  • Use proper typing arm position

  • Exercise to strengthen the elbow muscles

  • Avoid overuse of the elbow

  • Warm-up before working out

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