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Elbow (olecranon) Bursitis Treatment Overview

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Care Plan


First steps to consider

  • Most cases of elbow bursitis can be treated at home.
  • Try rest, ice, and taking ibuprofen (Advil).
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When you may need a provider

  • Your elbow bursitis does not start to improve after 2–3 weeks of home treatments
  • You may also want to see a physical therapist to help strengthen and improve range of motion.
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Emergency Care

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Call 911 or go to the ER if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Fever, chills, nausea, or vomiting
  • Severe pain when moving the elbow
  • Redness, warmth, swelling, or drainage from the joint

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All treatments for elbow (olecranon) bursitis
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Read more about elbow (olecranon) bursitis care options

When to see a healthcare provicer

Contact a healthcare provider if your elbow bursitis symptoms—elbow pain and swelling—do not start to improve after 2–3 weeks of home treatments including rest, ice, anti-inflammatory pain relievers (ibuprofen), and reducing stress on your elbow.

Getting diagnosed

Elbow bursitis is typically diagnosed based on a physical exam, your symptoms, and your medical history. If you have symptoms of an infection or the diagnosis is not clear, your doctor may recommend an ultrasound. In rare cases, an MRI may be recommended to check for other conditions such as an elbow tumor or severe gout (calcium deposits in your joint). Your doctor may order a blood test to see if you have gout.

What to expect from your visit

  • Your doctor will make sure you have bursitis and check for other conditions.
  • They may recommend prescription anti-inflammatory pain relievers (NSAIDs) if OTC NSAIDs like ibuprofen have not helped.
  • An elbow brace or splint may be recommended to help reduce stress and inflammation in the joint.
  • Your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist, who can help you strengthen and improve your range of motion as you heal.
  • It is not recommended to remove fluid from the bursa sac with a needle or to perform a cortisone injection as these procedures may lead to infection or create a hole in the bursa.
  • If your doctor is concerned about the possibility of infection in the bursa, it is likely you will be prescribed oral antibiotics. In severe cases or cases that don’t respond to oral antibiotics, you may be admitted to the hospital for IV antibiotics. In rare cases, surgical treatment of an infected elbow bursa may be required.

Prescription elbow bursitis medications

  • Meloxicam (Mobic)
  • Nabumetone (Relafen)
  • Naproxen (Naprosyn)
  • Ibuprofen (Motrin)
  • Celecoxib (Celebrex)

Types of providers

  • A primary care provider can treat mild to moderate symptoms.
  • An orthopedic surgeon specializes in muscle, joint, and bone injuries.
  • A physical therapist can do strengthening and stretching exercises.
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