Elbow bursitis is a painful condition that is actually an inflammation of the olecranon bursa. The bursas are small fluid filled sacs in the back of your elbow that act as a cushion between your skin and bones. When the bursa becomes inflamed, the elbow will usually swell and that’s when you generally will start to feel the pain.


Elbow bursitis is also known as “Popeye Elbow” because like the cartoon character, your elbow usually swells up and looks puffy. Swelling is the primary symptom of bursitis, but here are some other common symptoms that come along with the swelling:

  • Pain in elbow with contact or movement
  • Sharp shooting pains in elbow
  • Restricted motion
  • Redness in elbow


There a few main common causes of elbow bursitis. One of the most common is repetitive pressure on or around the bursa. This can happen if you place your elbow on a hard surface for an extended period of time, like a table, and that alone can be enough to aggravate the bursa. Acute injuries are another cause of elbow bursitis.A sharp blow to your elbow or something like falling to the ground and landing on your elbow, may cause bleeding or fluid buildup.

Finally, bursitis can be caused by an infection or other medical conditions like arthritis. In the case of elbow bursitis, the bursa is at high risk of puncture injuries due to its proximity to the skin. A puncture can lead to an infection which may lead to other complications.

How to treat bursitis?

Treatment of elbow bursitis depends largely on what caused it. As an example, if the bursitis was caused by constant or repetitive pressure, and there is no infection – resting and icing your elbow, in combination with anti-inflammatory medications, may be all you need to treat the injury. However, if your bursitis was caused by an infection or is infected, the fluid may need to be drained and antibiotics will likely be prescribed. If the bursitis was caused by a direct trauma, surgery may be needed to aid against infection.

Get Treatment

If you have any elbow bursitis symptoms for an extended period of time, contacting a physician may be beneficial and necessary. Bursitis can be a simple injury to treat, but the risk of infection can lead to surgery. The best way to avoid unnecessary procedures is to see a physician as soon as possible.

Find an IBJI physician nearest you for the best orthopedic care in Chicagoland.

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