The bursa is a fluid filled sac inside the elbow that functions as a cushion between the bone and the skin. When the bursa becomes inflamed and filled with fluid due to trauma or irritation, it is called bursitis of the elbow. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, bursitis in the elbow is generally caused by direct trauma, prolonged pressure to the tip of the elbow, infection, or medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout.
Symptoms of bursitis include pain and sensitivity in or near the elbow joint, difficulty moving the elbow, a reddening of the skin over the painful area, and a burning sensation in the joint and skin. The Mayo Clinic states that most cases of bursitis can be treated at home, but a medical professional should treat severe or persistent cases.
Things You'll Need
- Ice packs
- Elastic compression bandage
- Ibuprofen or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug
Rest the elbow as often as possible to reduce swelling and promote healing, especially after using it for activities that increase pain or inflammation.
Apply ice packs for 15 to 20 minutes every few hours throughout the day. This will help with inflammation and alleviate pain.
Wrap the elbow in a compression bandage. The bandage should be elastic and tight enough to support the elbow without restricting circulation. Wrapping helps prevent swelling.
Elevate the elbow whenever possible. Proper elevation requires keeping the elbow above the level of your heart. Propping your arm up on a stack of pillow on the couch or in bed is usually sufficient.
Take an over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. Drugs such as ibuprofen will help with the discomfort of bursitis while reducing swelling.
Visit your doctor for X-rays if your bursitis does not respond to home treatment within a week. Your doctor will need to rule out fractures and other causes of pain and swelling.
Ask your doctor to aspirate the bursa in your elbow. Aspiration involves using a syringe to drain fluid from the elbow. There is a slight risk of infection associated with aspiration. Your doctor may examine the fluid under a microscope to determine if any infection is present, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. If an infection is discovered, antibiotics will be prescribed.
Get a cortisone injection in your elbow. Your doctor can inject a small amount of this medication directly into the bursa. According to the Mayo Clinic, cortisone injections may have to be repeated to keep inflammation under control, but usually one treatment is enough.
Remove the bursa surgically. The Internet Society of Orthopaedic Surgery and Trauma states that this treatment option is typically reserved for cases of bursitis that fail to respond to other methods of treatment. During this surgical procedure, an incision is made just over the elbow tip. The thickened bursa sac is removed, and the incision is closed with stitches. The elbow is placed in a splint to prevent movement and allow the joint to rest.
Strengthen your elbow by taking part in rehabilitative physical therapy. It is important to learn how to strengthen and exercise your arm using proper techniques that will decrease the likelihood that the bursitis will return in the future. Physical therapy should only begin after your bursitis heals, and should be done under the supervision of a professional.