The olecranon bursa is located between the pointy bone at the back of your elbow - called the olecranon - and the overlying skin. This bursa helps the elbow to bend and straighten smoothly.
When the bursa sack becomes irritated or inflamed, it can fill up with excess fluid and swell up like a rubber balloon - that's bursitis.
Elbow bursitis can occur for so many reasons, these are the most common ones:
Trauma of a hard hit to or a fall onto your elbow can irritate or even damage the bursa.
Also, inadequate rehabilitation following a previous elbow injury may lead to bursitis and/or tendonitis.
If you are leaning on the tip of the elbow for long periods of time on hard surfaces - such as your office desk - you may develop bursitis over months or years.
Bursitis can be caused by doing activities that use the same movements over and over again. Ever heard of a tennis elbow?
But it is not only tennis players who can suffer from olecranon bursitis. For example, innocent vacuum cleaning can do similar damage if done diligently and frequently.
Infection is remarkably common with olecranon bursa because it is located just below the skin.
Any small infection on the skin over the bursa - as a result of injury, insect bite, scrape or puncture wound, for instance - can relatively easily spread down inside the bursa. If that happens, the unwanted fluid or blood in the bursa may turn into pus.
Occasionally, the bursa sac may actually become infected without any obvious injury on the skin surface.
Patients with systemic inflammatory conditions (e.g. arthritis or gout), immune disorders and other aliments are associated with increased risk of developing elbow bursitis.
The area around the inflamed (septic) bursa becomes inflamed hot, red, and tender.
You typically feel pain and / or tenderness at the back of your elbow.
The aches get worse if you put direct pressure on the elbow, try to put it down on a surface, bend it or straighten it.
Olecranon bursitis can leave you looking like you have a golf ball under the skin at the back point of your elbow if a bulge of an abscess forms in a response to the infection.
Even if the swelling is not so severe, it can usually be noticed very soon as one of the first symptoms, because the skin on the tip of the elbow is so loose.
Also, you may feel small 'floating lumps' underneath the elbow skin. These are usually the thickened pieces of bursa that have formed as a result of the inflammation. Over time, the bursa can become very thick, almost like an elbow pad.
More activity usually means more swelling.
In case the olecranon bursa gets infected, the skin over the elbow may become red and hot to touch. You may also have a fever and chills.
Untreated infection may spread to other parts of the arm or even your blood flow.
If the swelling of the bursa grows large enough to restrict the full range of motion, you may not be able to move your elbow as much as you normally would.
Also, you may experience weakness in the elbow when attempting to straighten the joint, particularly against resistance.
The treatment of elbow bursitis is very similar to other conventional and natural treatments of other types of bursitis to stop the inflammation and get the normal range of motion back.
If there is a question of infection of the bursa, your doctor will most probably send the fluid for laboratory analysis.
Treatment of severely and / or repeatedly infected bursitis may require drainage of the fluid or removal of the bursa altogether (which is very rare).
Avoid whatever actions caused your elbow bursitis in the first place, strengthen your muscles, eat well and don’t forget to get yourself a good elbow pad. Take care.