What is Olecranon Bursitis and How is it Treated?

Hidden beneath the skin at the tip of the elbow is a small, fluid-filled sac known as the olecranon bursa. You may never know it’s there until it becomes infected or inflamed. When this happens, this tiny sac can become extremely painful, making it difficult to perform daily activities.

Understanding the nature of olecranon bursitis and how to recognize the symptoms is key for diagnosing and managing this often painful condition. In this article, our experts at the Hand and Wrist Institute in Dallas explore what olecranon bursitis is, what the symptoms are, the common treatment methods, and when to seek medical attention.

What Is Olecranon Bursitis?

Person sitting with their elbows resting on their knees

Olecranon bursitis is a fairly common elbow condition where a small fluid-filled sac located at the tip of the elbow, known as the olecranon bursa, becomes inflamed. The bursa acts as a cushion between the skin and the bony part of the elbow and allows for smooth movement.

When the bursa becomes inflamed, it causes swelling, tenderness, and occasionally pain at the back of the elbow. In some cases, the swelling can grow significantly, causing a noticeable lump or a feeling of fullness at the elbow joint. This condition can be caused by various factors, such as trauma, repetitive pressure or strain on the elbow, an infection, or even an underlying medical condition such as arthritis.

What Are the Symptoms of Olecranon Bursitis?

The symptoms of olecranon bursitis typically include the following:

These symptoms can vary in severity from mild discomfort to more pronounced swelling and pain, depending on the underlying cause and the extent of inflammation in the bursa.

How Is Olecranon Diagnosed?

In most cases, our Dallas hand and wrist specialists can diagnose olecranon bursitis with a physical examination. However, we may rely on diagnostic tests to rule out any other potential causes or to diagnose an infection. We may perform an X-ray, ultrasound, or MRI, and take fluid samples or conduct blood tests.

How Is Olecranon Bursitis Treated?

Treatment for olecranon bursitis varies from at-home treatment for mild cases to in-clinic treatment for moderate to severe cases. Treatment aims to reduce inflammation, manage pain, and address any underlying causes. At the Hand and Wrist Institute in Dallas, common treatment methods include:


In cases where at-home or in-clinic treatments are not able to provide relief or if the condition is recurring or chronic, we may consider surgical intervention to remove the bursa. However, surgery is usually a last resort when other less invasive treatments have been ineffective or in the case of septic elbow bursitis. We may perform one or more of the following procedures:

When To Seek Medical Attention

If you’re experiencing intense pain or excessive swelling, or your elbow is suddenly getting larger, seek immediate medical attention as soon as possible. This can help determine the underlying cause of the symptoms and ensure that you receive suitable treatment to alleviate pain, reduce swelling, and prevent potential complications associated with olecranon bursitis. Have you noticed any symptoms affecting your elbow? Contact us today to book an appointment. Our Dallas hand surgeons can provide an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan, getting you on the road to recovery.


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Dr. John Knight
Dr. John Knight

Dr. Knight is a renowned hand, wrist and upper extremity surgeon with over 25 years of experience. Dr. Knight is a Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon and Fellowship trained. Dr Knight has appeared on CNN, The Doctors TV, Good Morning America, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Forbes, The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, Oxygen network and more.