What is Olecranon Bursitis?
Bursitis means inflammation of a bursa. The bursa at the back of the elbow over the olecranon is the most common bursa to become inflamed. Inflammation causes swelling and extra fluid to be made.
What Causes Olecranon Bursitis?
- Mild but repeated injury is thought to be the common cause. For example, people who lean on their elbows a lot cause friction and repeated mild injury over the olecranon. (Fancy names have been given to this condition when the cause is clear. For example, when it occurs in people who study whilst leaning on their elbows on a desk, it is called ‘student’s elbow’. Other names include ‘miner’s elbow’, ‘plumber’s elbow’, etc, when the job involves crawling a lot using elbows.)
- One-off injury such as a blow to the back of the elbow may set off inflammation.
- Arthritis. One or more bursae may become inflamed as part of a generalised arthritis. (Note: most cases of olecranon bursitis are not associated with arthritis.)
- Infection of a bursa. This may occur if there is a cut in the skin over a bursa, which allows in germs (bacteria).
- Unknown (idiopathic). Many cases occur for no apparent reason. However, it is possible that some of these are due to a mild injury that has been forgotten.
What are the symptoms of olecranon bursitis?
You cannot normally feel or see a bursa. If the olecranon bursa is inflamed then it causes a thickness and swelling over the back of the elbow. The bursa may also fill with fluid and it then looks like a small soft ball – a bit like a cyst. Most cases (those not infected or associated with arthritis) are painless, or are only mildly painful. The movement of the elbow joint is not affected.
If the bursa is infected (‘septic’ olecranon bursitis) then you will usually develop pain, redness and tenderness behind the elbow.
A bursitis associated with arthritis may not be painful itself, but you will have other symptoms related to the arthritis, such as joint pains.