Elbow (ulnar) bursitis: signs and treatment


Elbow bursitis, also called elbow bursitis, causes fluid to collect in a sac behind the elbow called olecranon bursitis. People may notice elbow bursitis as a soft lump on the back of the elbow. Many times, it seems to appear out of nowhere, or they may remember something that triggered their symptoms.

Elbow bursitis is more common with age, more common in men, and more common in the dominant arm .

Illustration by JR Bee / Get Meds Info.

Bursa elbow anatomy

A bursa is a slippery, bag-like tissue that generally allows smooth movement around the bony ridges, such as a point behind the elbow. When the bursa becomes inflamed, the sac fills with fluid. This can cause noticeable pain and swelling behind the elbow. Elbow bursitis is the most common type of bursitis .

The elbow bursa forms in early childhood, but is absent at birth. The developmental skeleton is believed to be the cause of the delay in formation.

As the olecranon bone forms and develops more rigidly, the body responds by creating a pocket to protect the area and ensure a smooth fusion of the elbow joint.

The elbow pocket reaches 6 centimeters (cm) in length and can swell to the size of a golf ball.

Symptoms of ulnar bursitis

Common symptoms of elbow bursitis include:

About 20% of people diagnosed with ulnar bursitis have an infection within the bursa, this is called infected ulnar bursitis or septic bursitis. Here are the signs of a bag infection. If you experience these symptoms, you should inform your doctor so that they can evaluate for infected elbow bursitis:

  • Hot
  • Chills or sweat
  • Redness around the back of the elbow.
  • Tears in the skin (scrapes / cuts) around the inflamed area.


Elbow bursitis can be the result of an injury, such as falling onto the back of the elbow, or it can seemingly appear out of nowhere. People who rest their elbows on hard surfaces can aggravate the condition and make the swelling more visible.

Infectious elbow bursitis, also called septic bursitis, can occur after an injury in which the skin behind the elbow is cut or frayed, allowing bacteria to enter. People with systemic inflammatory conditions like gout and rheumatoid arthritis have a higher chance of developing infected elbow bursitis.


There are other conditions that can cause pain and swelling in the elbow and should also be considered a possible diagnosis. Your healthcare provider can usually diagnose elbow bursitis on an exam.

X-rays may be taken to make sure the elbow joint looks normal. MRI is not necessary to diagnose elbow bursitis and will only be done if the diagnosis is uncertain.

If it is not clear whether bacteria are present in the swollen pouch, a sample of fluid can be taken from the swollen pouch and analyzed in the laboratory. Your healthcare professional can inoculate the liquid to see the bacteria. Also, elevated levels of white blood cells and glucose in the bursa fluid can be a sign of infection.

In some systemic diseases, elbow bursitis can manifest as a sign of this condition. This underlying condition may also require treatment to alleviate bursitis symptoms, so it is important to have your healthcare provider evaluate for these conditions.

Some of the systemic problems that can lead to appendix bursitis include arthritis, gout , pseudogout , and chondrocalcinosis . If you have any of these conditions, you should tell your doctor, as it could change the recommendations for treating your bursitis.

Watch out

Most of the time, the treatment of elbow bursitis is carried out in a few simple steps, while it is important for people to understand that the injury is due to inflammation of the bursa.

Therefore, it is critical to the success of the treatment that the elbow remains at rest and does not press on the back of the elbow. If people continue the activities that led to the development of bursitis, the problem is unlikely to go away.

The drainage of ulnar bursitis is a controversial topic, especially if there is no infection of the bursa. In this situation, inserting a needle into the bursa can lead to the penetration of bacteria and the development of infected bursitis, which is much more difficult to treat.

Get the word of drug information

Elbow bursitis can be uncomfortable, but keep in mind that people with elbow bursitis usually recover with simple treatment. Sometimes the cause of bursitis is clear, while other times it seems to appear out of nowhere.

Most patients are more concerned about a lump at the back of the elbow than the severity of the symptoms. However, when symptoms become bothersome, there are effective treatments that can help reduce swelling.

Invasive treatments and surgery should be approached with caution, as elbow bursitis can become infected and become recurrent. If possible, simple treatments should be tried.

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