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What Are the Treatments for Elbow Bursitis?

By Jacques Courseault ; Updated August 14, 2017

Elbow, or olecranon bursitis is the inflammation of the bursa sac between the elbow and the skin. A bursa is a slippery sac that prevents excessive skin-to-bone rubbing during physical activity. Bursitis occurs around the elbow during repetitive motions, such as tennis. This condition results in pain, stiffness, tenderness, swelling and redness around the tip of the elbow. A patient experiencing joint pain for more than two weeks--or excessive swelling, pain or fever--should see a doctor.


If the elbow bursitis isn't from an infection, the elbow should be elevated and ice applied. A patient can apply an ice pack or a pack of frozen vegetables to the tip of the elbow. He should keep the ice pack on the elbow for 20 minutes, then remove the ice pack for 20 minutes. This cycle should be repeated as often as possible for the first two days. The patient should also be advised to apply ice to the elbow in the case of future flare-ups.


Oral medication can also be used to treat elbow bursitis. A doctor may recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve). Follow the directions on the bottle for correct dosing. These medications can reduce the swelling in the bursa, which relieves pain in the elbow. These medications should be taken as directed to avoid possible complications, such as liver, kidney or stomach damage. Be sure to let your doctor know that you're taking these medications. In addition, ask if you should continue taking them if he prescribes you additional medications.

Cortisone Injection

In more severe cases, a doctor may recommend removing fluid and injecting corticosteroid into the bursa. The steroid may reduce swelling better than oral medications because it's placed directly into the bursa, and steroids have a stronger anti-inflammatory action than NSAIDs. These injections do not always effectively treat the symptoms, and there is a risk of introducing infection into the area.


If the bursa is infected and doesn't improve with medications, the doctor may recommend the surgical removal of the bursa. Additionally, a non-infected bursa may be removed if it doesn't respond to conservative treatments. The risks of surgery are slight because the surgeon doesn't disturb muscles, ligaments or bones. However, with every surgery there is a risk of infection, excessive bleeding or structural damage. Therefore, a patient should thoroughly discuss bursa removal with his doctor before proceeding.

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