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Olecranon Bursitis

What is Olecranon Bursitis?

Despite the daunting name, olecranon bursitis is an inflammation of the bursa in the elbow. Bursae are little pouches that act as cushions between muscles and tendons or muscles and bones. Bursa also secrete a lubricating fluid, called the synovial fluid, which helps the muscles slide easily over the bones or other muscles. The olecranon bursa is a flat cushion found in the elbow. It’s positioned between the baggy skin there and the bone known as the olecranon.

How Is It Caused?

Olecranon bursitis can be caused when the elbow suffers a trauma. It can happen if a person inadvertently bangs their elbow against a wall or a piece of furniture. This can cause the bursa to become inflamed. Its lubricating fluid builds up inside it and causes the bursa to swell. Another cause of olecranon bursitis is when pressure is put on the elbow over a long period of time. This can be seen if someone is in the habit of leaning their elbow on a hard surface like a desktop, then propping up their head on their hand. People who have occupations where they have to put weight on their elbows, like plumbers, are also more at risk for developing this type of bursitis.

A person who gets elbow bursitis will notice that there’s a swelling on their elbow that becomes painful. The pain is made worse whenever they try to lean on their elbow or try to move it. Sometimes the swelling isn’t noticed till a while after the injury, as the skin at the back of the elbow is slack and gives the bursa some room to grow.

Treatment Options

Non-Surgical Treatment

After the doctor examines the patient’s elbow and determines that they have elbow bursitis, they might try a non-surgical treatment. This can be needle aspiration, where the fluid is simply sucked out of the bursae with a needle in an outpatient procedure. The removal of the fluid not only eases the patient’s pain and swelling but the doctor can have it examined to see if it’s harboring bacteria. If it is, they might prescribe a course of antibiotics for the patient.

However, if there are no bacteria in the fluid, the doctor might prescribe other sorts of medications like NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) to reduce the pain and inflammation. They might also advise the patient in better ways to use their elbow so not to aggravate their bursitis, or even prescribe elbow pads to support the elbow while it’s healing.

If these remedies don’t work after about a month or so, the doctor might aspirate the fluid and inject corticosteroids into the affected area. This kind of medication is much stronger than NSAIDs like ibuprofen.

Surgical Treatment

If none of the mentioned treatments work, the doctor might recommend surgery to remove the bursa altogether. This is sometimes an inpatient procedure, which means that the patient will need to spend a night in the hospital, though a bursa that’s not infected might be able to be taken out in an outpatient facility. The patient will still be on a course of antibiotics, either taken orally or through IV. The good news is a healthy bursa will grow back to replaced the inflamed one after a few months.

How Is the Surgery Done?

The surgeon makes an incision in the elbow, removes the inflamed bursa, then sutures the surgical wound.

What’s the Recovery Time?

The patient should make a complete recovery within three or four months after the surgery. The surgical wound should be healed within ten days to two weeks. During the recovery period the patient might have to wear a splint, sling, or pad to protect the elbow. After these protections come off, the elbow should be able to work normally and painlessly.

Why see Dr. Knight for olecranon bursitis?

A patient shouldn’t hesitate to set up a consultation with Dr. John T. Knight if they suspect they might have olecranon bursitis. Dr. Knight is a board certified and fellowship trained orthopedic surgeon who has more than 20 years of experience in treating the hand, wrist and arm. He received his medical degree from the Louisiana State University School of Medicine, then successfully completed a Hand and Upper Extremity Fellowship at the Joseph H. Boyes Program in Los Angeles. To date, Dr. Knight has performed over 15,000 operations.

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