Olecranon Bursitis

Short summary

The olecranon is the medical term to describe the point of your elbow.  A fluid filled sac called a bursa overlies the olecranon to allow the skin to glide freely over this bony prominence.  This can get inflamed or infected causing dramatic swelling to the point of the elbow with pain and redness.  This is termed olecranon bursitis.

What are the causes?

Olecranon bursitis can occur for a number of reasons.  Prolonged pressure to the point of the elbow can cause the bursa to swell.  Certain occupations, such as plumbers, are susceptible to bursitis.  Inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout are associated with olecranon bursitis.  Infection can also occur, particularly if the skin is cracked or broken near the elbow.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptom is of swelling over the point of the elbow.  This may be uncomfortable when it is banged.  The skin overlying the elbow may feel tight, particularly when trying to bend the elbow.  

If the olecranon bursa becomes infected the overlying skin becomes red and warm to touch.  There will be increased pain although elbow movements should still be possible.  Infected olecranon bursitis should be treated with antibiotics promptly.

How is it diagnosed?

Your surgeon can usually make the diagnosis by asking about the symptoms you have and examining your elbow.  There is usually no need for any special investigations although an X-ray is sometimes performed.

How is it treated?

Infected olecranon bursitis needs antibiotics, rest and ice.  Sometimes intravenous antibiotics are needed for severe infections.  

The swelling should settle over time with anti-inflammatory medication and activity modification.  If symptoms persist or the olecranon bursitis develops recurrent infections then an olecranon bursa excision can be considered.