Many people have elbow bursitis without knowing they do. The swelling may go unnoticed because the back of the elbow is difficult to see. In addition, the skin over the elbow is loose, so swelling may not cause discomfort.

The longer inflammation is present, the more likely swelling will be accompanied by other symptoms. Recognizing and treating symptoms early can prevent bursitis from recurring and becoming chronic.

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Symptoms of elbow bursitis include:

Localized swelling
Normally the olecranon bursa is flat. An inflamed olecranon bursa swells up with fluid, and this enlargement can be felt and seen through the skin. An olecranon bursa can swell to 6 or 7 cm long by 2.5 cm wide,1 resulting in an obvious bump.

It is possible for septic elbow bursitis to cause additional swelling within the elbow joint itself.2 If the inflamed, aseptic (not infected) bursa ruptures, it may cause swelling extending all the way to the forearm.3

Tenderness
Experts approximate 88% of people with septic elbow bursitis and 36% of people with non-septic (non-infectious) bursitis report tenderness at the elbow.4 Tenderness is pain when touched.

Elbow pain
Initially, the swelling may not be accompanied by pain, and some people with elbow bursitis never experience any pain. However, as the olecranon bursa swells larger and larger it may cause aching pain or discomfort, particularly during extreme bending or straightening.

Full range of motion
Elbow bursitis usually does not limit joint movement. In more severe cases, the swollen bursa may make it difficult to completely straighten or extremely flex the elbow.

Skin that is warm to the touch
The temperature of the skin over the inflamed bursa will be warmer than elsewhere, particularly in septic bursitis.5

Redness
The skin over the inflamed bursa will be pink or red, particularly in septic bursitis.

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Fever
A high fever or chills in addition to other bursitis symptoms can be a sign of septic bursitis. Septic bursitis is a serious condition and patients should seek medical care to ensure the infection does not spread.

Septic bursitis warrants prompt medical care to treat the infection, so it is advisable to see a doctor if there is any concern that one’s elbow bursitis may be infected.

See Septic Bursitis Treatment

References

  • 1.Quayle JB, Robinson MP, "A useful procedure in the treatment of chronic olecranon bursitis," Injury, 1978;9(4):299-302
  • 2.McAfee JH, Smith DL. Olecranon and prepatellar bursitis. Diagnosis and treatment. West J Med 1988;149:607-10. As cited in Reilly D, Kamineni S. Olecranon bursitis. J Shoulder Elbow Surg. 2016 Jan;25(1):158-67. doi: 10.1016/j.jse.2015.08.032. Epub 2015 Nov 11. Review. PubMed PMID: 26577126.
  • 3.Macfarlane JD, van der Linden SJ. Leaking rheumatoid olecranon bursitis as a cause of forearm swelling. Ann Rheum Dis. 1981;40(3):309–311. doi:10.1136/ard.40.3.309
  • 4.Reilly D, Kamineni S. Olecranon bursitis. J Shoulder Elbow Surg. 2016 Jan;25(1):158-67. doi: 10.1016/j.jse.2015.08.032. Epub 2015 Nov 11. Review. PubMed PMID: 26577126.
  • 5.Smith DL, McAfee JH, Lucas LM, Kumar KL, Romney DM, "Septic and nonseptic olecranon bursitis. Utility of the surface temperature probe in the early differentiation of septic and nonseptic cases," (Abstract only) Arch Intern Med, 1989;149(7):1581-1585. PMID 2742432.
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