Elbow bursitis, also called olecranon bursitis, causes fluid to collect in a sac that lies behind the elbow, called the olecranon bursa. A bursa is a slippery, sac-like tissue that normally allows smooth movement around bony prominences, such as the point behind the elbow. When a bursa becomes inflamed, the sac fills with fluid. This can cause pain and a noticeable swelling behind the elbow.
Elbow bursitis can occur for a number of reasons.
- Trauma: A hard blow to the tip of the elbow can cause the bursa to produce excess fluid and swell.
Prolonged pressure: Leaning on the tip of the elbow for long periods of time on hard surfaces, such as a tabletop, may cause the bursa to swell. Typically, this type of bursitis develops over several months.
People in certain occupations are especially vulnerable, particularly plumbers or heating and air conditioning technicians who have to crawl on their knees in tight spaces and lean on their elbows.
- Infection: If an injury at the tip of the elbow breaks the skin, such as an insect bite, scrape, or puncture wound, bacteria may get inside the bursa sac and cause an infection. The infected bursa produces fluid, redness, swelling, and pain. If the infection goes untreated, the fluid may turn to pus.
Occasionally, the bursa sac may become infected without an obvious injury to the skin.
- Medical conditions: Certain conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout, are associated with elbow bursitis.
Are the complications of elbow bursitis?
Occasionally, the swelling and inflammation can be the result of an infection within the bursa, this is called infected elbow bursitis. Patients with systemic inflammatory conditions, such as gout and rheumatoid arthritis, are also at increased risk of developing infected elbow bursitis.
What are the signs of infected elbow bursitis?
The follow are signs of infection within the bursa. If you experience these symptoms, you should alert your doctor so he or she can evaluate for the possibility of an infected elbow bursitis:
- Chills or sweats
- Significant redness around the back of the elbow
- Breaks in the skin (scrapes/cuts) around the swollen area
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