Brief Outline of Elbow Bursitis
Elbow bursitis, also known as olecranon bursitis, is caused by inflammation of small, fluid-sacs known as bursae. The function of a bursa is to provide a gliding surface that lubricates and reduces friction between various tissues in the body. Bursae tend to be located adjacent to tendons of major joints, including the shoulders, hips, knees and elbows. Elbow bursitis occurs when the bursa below the tip of the elbow becomes inflamed from leaning it too much or is injured through direct trauma.
Anatomy and physiolgy
The bony prominence at the tip of the elbow is known as the olecranon process. It is formed at the proximal aspect of the ulna. The fluid-filled sac located atop the olecranon process is the olecranon bursa, which is the largest bursa in the elbow region, and provides lubrication to underlying bone. Bursae are typically not visible unless bursitis has caused them to swell and become apparent. Non-inflammatory bursitis usually results from repeated trauma, such as leaning on the elbows, while inflammatory bursitis is the result of infection or an underlying inflammatory medical condition e.g. rheumatism.
Cause of Elbow Bursitis
A hard blow to the tip of the elbow, causing the bursa to swell with excess fluid. Leaning on the elbow tip for extended periods. An injury that breaks the skin, causing infection of the bursa.
Signs and symptoms
Pain in the elbow region at rest and during exercise. A rapid and painful swelling on the back of the elbow (red and warm, if infected). Swelling may stem from bleeding or seepage of fluid into the bursal sac. Reduced mobility in the elbow.
Complications if left unattended
In addition to continued pain, discomfort, and loss of elbow mobility, untreated bursitis can lead to more serious complications, especially when infection is present. In such cases, the fluid of the bursa can turn to pus, and the infection can intensify and spread in a condition known as septic bursitis, requiring aggressive medical treatment (including antibiotics and occasionally, a bursectomy – surgical removal of the infected bursa).
- Needle aspiration
Rehabilitation and prevention
The swollen bursa of the elbow may require aspiration by needle to drain fluid an reduce swelling. Cortisone injections may also be given, which can help to prevent re-accumulation of fluid. Barring serious infection, these steps are generally sufficient to treat elbow bursitis. Protecting the elbow during athletics with bracing or padding, and avoiding excessive leaning on the point of the elbow can help prevent the injury.
Long-term outlook for elbow bursitis is generally good, depending on the severity and nature of the injury. Most patients cane expect full recovery, though complications can arise if infection is present, particularly if the condition is not given prompt medical attention.
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