Olecranon Bursitis

I have a swelling at the back of my elbow

If you have noticed a spongy swelling at the back of your elbow, you might have olecranon bursitis. This can be accompanied by redness and swelling and may or may not cause pain.

What is a bursa?

A bursa is a fluid filled bad that occurs at many spots in the human body. It’s purpose is to provide a lubrication layer for two tissue qualities that glide against each other. At the back of the elbow the bone and skin are very close to each other and a bursa is located in between the two.

What is bursitis and who gets it?

A bursa can get inflamed due to overuse or direct trauma. Systemic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or gout can also trigger olecranon bursitis. The inflamed bursa produces more fluid and the lining tissue layer grows in thickness. At the elbow the bursa is direct under the skin and if bacteria enter the bursa, septic bursitis occurs. This is a rather dramatic picture including fever and general feeling of sickness.

How is olecranon bursitis diagnosed?

The clinical finding is typical with a spongy swelling due to the increased fluid content. Ultrasound is able to image this very nicely and X-rays can pick up calcifications which are typical for gout.

Treatment for olecranon bursitis

Treatment commences with non-operative measures of anti-inflammation such as ice application and oral medication with NSAID (Non Steroidal AntiInflammatory Drugs). It is possible to aspirate fluid and also to inject cortisone as local inflammatory drug. However our to persisting inflammation recurrent dense swelling might return and require repeat aspiration. In cases where these measures fail, surgery is an option.

Surgery for olecranon bursitis

During the surgery the bursa will be removed in its entirety. This requires a direct surgical approach to the back of the elbow. The bursa will re-grow within a few weeks providing a new gliding layer between skin and bone. The surgery can be carried out as a day case.

Preparing for surgery for olecranon bursitis

If required we will arrange for a bulk billed pre-admission clinic at the hospital. This is run by a specialist anaesthetist who will gather information and request investigations that are required for safe anaesthesia. Our reception staff will advise of costs, hospital and admission details.

Recovery from surgery for olecranon bursitis

Following wound closure with internal stitches, local anaesthetic and dressings will be placed including an elastic bandage. It is encouraged to move the elbow immediately and use the arm for light activities of daily living. The wound heals within the first two weeks and only rarely physiotherapy is required.