Olecranon Bursitis

Olecranon Bursitis

Article by Zoe Russell

What Is Olecranon Bursitis?

Olecranon bursitis is the most common elbow bursitis.

Olecranon bursitis is inflammation of the bursa (a small, cushioning sac located where tendons pass over areas of bone around the joints), which lies over the point of your elbow known as the olecranon process.

More info: What is Bursitis?

What is Olecranon Bursitis Symptoms?

One or more of the following symptoms may be experienced:

  • Pain and swelling occurring over the rear of your elbow.
  • Pain when leaning on your elbow.
  • Increased pain when using your elbow, especially straightening or fully bending your elbow.

What Causes Olecranon Bursitis?

The olecranon bursa may be inflamed by your triceps muscles or tendons rubbing over the bursa and causing friction against the ulnar bone. This injury can occur traumatically from a fall or a sport-related impact contusion.

It can also be a case of gradual onset via a repetitive trauma to the bursa from such activities as throwing or pitching (with poor muscles control or technique) or excessive leaning on your elbow.

It is also a secondary injury associated with chronic conditions such as:

How is Olecranon Bursitis Diagnosed?

Your physiotherapist or doctor will provide you with an assessment of your medical history and a physical examination of your elbow. A hallmark sign is swelling of your elbow around the point of the elbow. It may be hot, firm or a soft lump depending on the stage of injury.

Diagnosis can also be confirmed by medical imaging techniques that include ultrasound scan & MRI.

What is Olecranon Bursitis Treatment?

  • Ice
  • Bursitis is an inflammed bursa. Daily application of ice packs is highly recommended to reduce your pain and swelling.
  • Medications
  • NSAIDs or anti-inflammatory drugs (i.e. ibuprofen). The use of these medications should be discussed with your doctor.
  • Corticosteroid Injections

Single-injection of a corticosteroid with a local anaesthetic into the bursa may be required to stimulate your healing response. It is preferable to have this injection using ultrasound guidance.

Olecranon Bursitis Treatment

PHASE I – Pain Relief & Protection

Managing your pain. Pain is the main reason that you seek treatment for olecranon bursitis. In truth, it was actually the final symptom that you developed and should be the first symptom to improve.

Managing your inflammation. Bursa inflammation is best eased via ice therapy and techniques or exercises that de-load the inflamed structures.

Your physiotherapist will use an array of treatment tools to reduce your pain and inflammation. These include ice, electrotherapy, acupuncture, de-loading taping techniques, soft tissue massage etc.

PHASE II – Restoring Normal ROM, Strength

As your pain and inflammation settle, your physiotherapist will turn their attention to restoring your normal elbow joint range of motion, muscle length and resting tension, muscle strength, endurance and proprioception.

Please ask your physio for their advice.

PHASE III – Restoring Full Function

The final stage of your rehabilitation is aimed at returning you to your desired activities. Everyone has different demands for their elbows that will determine what specific treatment goals you need to achieve.

Your physiotherapist will tailor your elbow rehabilitation to help you achieve your own functional goals.

PHASE IV – Preventing a Recurrence

Olecranon bursitis can return if you annoy your bursa. The main reason it is thought to recur is due to insufficient rehabilitation or not understanding your condition.

Olecranon Bursitis Surgery

Surgery is not a common path. However, in persistent cases, removing the bursa – known as a bursectomy – can be performed.

How Can You Prevent Olecranon Bursitis?

Muscle weakness or fatigue is a potential cause of olecranon bursitis. So addressing your strength and endurance is necessary to avoid a recurrence.

What Results Can You Expect for Olecranon Bursitis?

While some people can respond quickly to physiotherapy treatment within a few weeks, more chronic cases where tendinopathy exists in the triceps muscle group under the bursa can require a few months to achieve recovery.

Olecranon bursitis is successfully managed in the vast majority over a period of approximately six weeks. It is important not to stop your rehabilitation exercises as soon as your pain abates. Hydrocortisone injections may be helpful in the short term to reduce the inflammatory response within the bursa.

Elbow Pain

Please visit the links below for some of the more common sources of elbow pain.

Elbow-related Arm Pain

Neck-related Arm Pain

Muscle-related Arm Pain

Other Sources of Arm Pain

Common Treatments For Elbow Pain

With accurate assessment and early treatment, most elbow pain responds extremely quickly to physiotherapy that will allow you to resume pain-free and normal activities of daily living quickly. Some conditions may require diagnostic investigations such as X-rays, ultrasound, MRI or CT scan. Fractures, dislocations and some severe or chronic injuries may require surgical opinion and/or intervention. Please ask your physiotherapist for their professional treatment advice.

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