Read below about swollen elbow, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your swollen elbow from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Swollen Elbow Symptoms

It's finally the weekend. One of your favorite pastimes is tennis. You pull back your power arm and get ready to launch a rocket. But as soon as your racket makes contact with the ball, it happens. A sudden, sharp pain radiates through your elbow. You hope it's just a fluke but your next attempt at hitting the ball proves you wrong.

As you head off the court, you look down and see that your swollen elbow looks nothing like it did earlier in the morning.

You may notice the following swollen elbow symptoms when your elbow suddenly swells.

  • Swelling, both mild and severe
  • Pain when bending or touching the elbow
  • Redness
  • Warmth
  • Pus (due to infection)

Maybe you remember hitting your elbow on a firm surface. Maybe you know a previously diagnosed condition could be behind your discomfort. Or maybe the swelling has no obvious cause. In all these situations, finding relief is a must.

A swollen elbow, or olecranon bursitis, can get in the way of work, fun, and your tennis game. The good news is that the swollen elbow symptom is rarely linked to a serious condition. With the right treatment, you'll be back on the court in no time.

Swollen Elbow Causes Overview

Trauma:

  • Injury: A sports injury can be one cause of swollen elbow symptoms. Accidents are another. If your elbow is stopped with tremendous force, swelling can happen almost immediately.
  • Repetitive pressure: Resting a portion of your body weight on your elbows for an excessive amount of time can lead to irritation and swelling. This is common for students and plumbers.

Infections:

  • Cut: An abrasion to the elbow can go unnoticed or untreated. If an infection develops, a swollen elbow is one of the first signs.
  • Insect bite: Not all insect bites can cause olecranon bursitis. But if you're allergic to a specific type of bite or the affected area becomes infected, the elbow can swell.

Conditions and diseases:

  • Arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis and gout can affect joints throughout the body, including the elbow.
  • Kidney failure: Chronic kidney disease can be linked to olecranon bursitis.

In most cases, a short physical exam and interview will find the root cause of swollen elbow symptoms. If no obvious cause is found, an aspiration may be performed. Fluid is removed from the elbow to relieve pressure and discomfort. The sample can also be tested for infection.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Swollen Elbow

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced swollen elbow. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Elbow (Olecranon) Bursitis

    Bursae are small fluid-filled sacks located around the body in strategic locations to provide a cushion and help reduce friction. Olecranon bursitis, or elbow bursitis, is an inflammation of the bursa right on the angle of the elbow, causing pain.

    Symptoms should resolve within a week on their own.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one elbow, swollen elbow, warm and red elbow swelling, elbow pain from an injury, elbow bump
    Symptoms that always occur with elbow (olecranon) bursitis:
    swollen elbow
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  2. 2.Elbow Bruise

    A bruise is the damage of the blood vessels that return blood to the heart (the capillaries and veins), which causes pooling of the blood. This explains the blue/purple color of most bruises. Bruises of the elbow are common, often due to minor injury.

    Bruises tend to begin healing within one week.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    constant elbow pain, pain in one elbow, elbow pain from an injury, recent elbow injury, swollen elbow
    Symptoms that always occur with elbow bruise:
    recent elbow injury, elbow pain from an injury, constant elbow pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Elbow Dislocation (Radial Head Subluxation)

    Radial head subluxation is a partial dislocation of a bone in the elbow called the radius. Dislocation means the bone slips out of its normal position.

    Days with treatment

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one elbow, swollen elbow, difficulty moving the elbow, holding arm close to body because of pain, elbow pain from an injury
    Symptoms that always occur with elbow dislocation (radial head subluxation):
    pain in one elbow
    Symptoms that never occur with elbow dislocation (radial head subluxation):
    elbow locking
    Urgency:
    In-person visit
  4. 4.Elbow Sprain

    An elbow sprain is an injury of the tendons or muscles of the elbow.

    1-3 weeks

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    elbow pain, elbow pain from an injury
    Symptoms that always occur with elbow sprain:
    elbow pain from an injury
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

    Swollen Elbow Checker

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  5. 5.Overuse Elbow Injury Related to Throwing Motion

    Overhand throwing places extremely high stresses on the elbow. In baseball pitchers and other throwing athletes, these high stresses are repeated many times and can lead to serious overuse injury.

    6-9 weeks with rest

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one shoulder, shoulder pain from overuse, pain in one elbow, elbow pain from overuse, pain in the pinky side of the elbow
    Symptoms that always occur with overuse elbow injury related to throwing motion:
    pain in one elbow, elbow pain from overuse
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  6. 6.Rheumatoid Arthritis

    Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a form of arthritis that causes pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function in your joints. It can affect any joint but is common in the wrist and fingers. RA is an autoimmune disorder, meaning that it is caused by the immune system incorrectly attacking the joints when it shouldn't.

    RA is a chronic disease which requires lifelong control.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, joint pain, muscle aches, daytime sleepiness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Cellulitis

    Facial cellulitis is a skin infection that typically comes from other parts of the face like the mouth or the sinuses and needs antibiotic treatment. Symptoms can be pain, redness, warmth and swelling of the affected area.

    Dependent on severity of infection

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fever, chills, facial redness, swollen face, face pain
    Symptoms that always occur with cellulitis:
    facial redness, area of skin redness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Synovial Chondromatosis

    Synovial chondromatosis is a disease affecting the synovium, which is a thin flexible membrane around a joint. It can often be confused with tendinitis and/or arthritis.

    Surgery is the only effective treatment at this time, but this condition is considered benign, and spreading to other tissue is very rare.

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    joint swelling, pain in one knee, pain in one hip, swollen knee, spontaneous knee pain
    Symptoms that always occur with synovial chondromatosis:
    joint swelling
    Symptoms that never occur with synovial chondromatosis:
    fever, night sweats, unintentional weight loss, warm red ankle swelling, warm red knee swelling, warm and red elbow swelling
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Swollen Elbow Treatments and Relief

If your elbow is swollen but manageable, a trip to the doctor probably isn't necessary.

In some cases of a swollen elbow, especially with the following symptoms, medical attention can't be avoided.

  • Excessive bleeding from an injury
  • Oozing pus
  • Inability to move elbow at all
  • Little to no improvement over the course of a week
  • Fever or local signs of infection

If your elbow isn't infected, treating your discomfort at home is simple.

Use the following swollen elbow treatments as a guide.

  • R.I.C.E.: Most cases of swollen elbows will positively respond to this treatment. Rest the affected area and Ice it several times a day. If possible, Compress the affected elbow and Elevate it as much as possible.
  • NSAIDs: To relieve pain and swelling, NSAIDs are an ideal option.
  • Epsom salt: Epsom salt contains magnesium, an anti-inflammatory mineral. Soak your elbow in warm water containing Epsom salt twice a day.
  • Aspiration: In extreme cases, removing excess fluid is the only treatment for relief. This needs to be performed by a doctor and should be monitored for signs of infection.

A swollen elbow is a common injury and in most cases, not dangerous. But it can put a damper on day to day activities. Once you determine the cause of your swollen elbow symptoms, treatment won't be far behind.

FAQs About Swollen Elbow

Here are some frequently asked questions about swollen elbow.

Why is my elbow swollen with no pain?

The most common cause of elbow swelling without pain is a condition called bursitis. The bursa is a thin, fluid-filled structure that cushions the bony tip of the elbow. Overuse or excess pressure placed on the elbow over time can cause inflammation and swelling of the bursa. Bursitis is sometimes painful, but it can also be painless.

Why is my swollen elbow hot to the touch?

A warm, swollen, painful elbow can be a sign of gout. This condition is a type of arthritis that causes sudden symptoms in one joint at a time, including in the elbow. Swelling and warmth to the touch may also indicate an infection. The elbow joint or the bursa, a fluid-filled sac cushioning the bone, can become infected. An elbow infection can have serious consequences including permanent damage to the joint. Seek immediate treatment for a hot, swollen, painful elbow, particularly if you also have a fever.

Can exercise cause my elbow to swell?

Exercise involving repetitive elbow motions, such as tennis or golf, can cause swelling over time. Overuse of the elbow can cause bursitis, meaning swelling of the fluid-filled sac that cushions the bone. Swelling can also be caused by an overuse injury of one of the tendons of the elbow. Pain may be present in addition to swelling.

Why does one of my elbows swell but not the other?

Swelling of only one elbow likely indicates a problem on just that side. You may experience swelling in one elbow if you use that side frequently for a sport, such as tennis. You could also have an injury to just one elbow, resulting in pain and swelling. In addition, an elbow infection or an attack of gout will likely affect only one side.

Can you work out with elbow bursitis?

If you have been diagnosed with elbow bursitis, you should rest the elbow for a while in order to give the inflammation a chance to resolve. Avoid exercises that place particular stress on the elbow, such as tennis and golf. In addition, try not to place too much pressure on the affected elbow. Icing the elbow may also help.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Swollen Elbow

  • Q.Is your swollen area warm and red?
  • Q.Do you feel pain when you presses on your elbow?
  • Q.Do you work in a profession where you often have to lean on your elbows?
  • Q.Have you ever been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our swollen elbow symptom checker to find out more.

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Swollen Elbow Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced swollen elbow have also experienced:

    • 17% Elbow Pain
    • 6% Pain in One Elbow
    • 4% Elbow Locking
  • People who have experienced swollen elbow had symptoms persist for:

    • 45% Less Than a Week
    • 26% Less Than a Day
    • 12% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced swollen elbow were most often matched with:

    • 71% Elbow Dislocation (Radial Head Subluxation)
    • 14% Elbow (Olecranon) Bursitis
    • 14% Elbow Bruise
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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