Hythem P. Shadid, M.D.
2900 Foxfield Road, Suite 102, St. Charles, IL 60174
Phone 630.377.1188 Fax 630.377.7360
Elbow (Olecranon) Bursitis
The bursa is a slippery sac between the loose skin and the bones of your elbow. The bursa allows
the skin to move freely over the underlying bone. It is located at the tip of the elbow. Normally,
the bursa is flat and it's hard to tell it is even there. If the bursa becomes irritated or inflamed, a
condition known as elbow bursitis develops.
Common causes of elbow bursitis include:
• Trauma: A hard blow to the tip of the elbow could cause the bursa to produce excess
fluid and swell.
• Prolonged pressure: Leaning on the tip of the elbow for long periods of time on hard
surfaces such as a tabletop may cause the bursa to swell. Typically, this type of bursitis
would develop over several months.
• Infection: If the tip of the elbow has an injury that breaks the skin, such as an insect bite
or a scrape, bacteria may get inside the bursa and cause an infection. The infected bursa
produces fluid, redness and swelling. If the infection goes untreated, the fluid may turn to
• Medical conditions: Certain conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout are
associated with development of elbow bursitis.
Swelling is often the first symptom. The skin on the back of the elbow is loose, so you may not
notice small amounts of swelling right away. As the swelling continues, the bursa gets larger.
This causes pain as the bursa is stretched, since the bursa contains nerve endings. The swelling
may get large enough to restrict motion in the elbow.
If the bursitis is infected, the skin becomes red and warm. If the infection is not treated right
away, it may spread to other parts of the arm or move into the bloodstream. This can cause