Bursitis is an inflammation of small sacs of fluid (bursae) that
help joints move smoothly. Olecranon bursitis, which affects the olecranon
bursa at the back of the elbow, is sometimes called Popeye elbow. This is
because the bump that develops at the back of the elbow looks like the cartoon
character Popeye's elbow.
What causes olecranon bursitis?
There are three general causes of olecranon bursitis:
Inflammation, such as from pressure on the
bursa or from inflammatory conditions. This is the most common cause of
A sudden injury, such as a blow to the elbow,
causing bleeding or fluid buildup
Infection caused by any of the
An injury at the site of the
An infection in tissue near the bursa that spreads to the
A blood-borne infection. This is rare.
What are the symptoms of olecranon bursitis?
Symptoms of olecranon bursitis may include:
Pain, especially with movement of the elbow or
pressure on the elbow.
Swelling. One lump may be felt in the back
of the affected elbow. The swelling or lump is caused by increased fluid within
the bursa and is tender with movement or when touched.
streaking, warmth, fever, and swollen
lymph nodes in the armpit caused by infection.
How is olecranon bursitis diagnosed?
Your doctor can likely diagnose olecranon bursitis
from a medical history and physical exam. If the swelling is the result of an
injury, X-rays may be necessary to determine whether the elbow is fractured.
If your doctor is concerned about an infection in your
elbow, he or she may drain fluid from the elbow with a needle and have the
fluid tested by a lab.
How is olecranon bursitis treated?
Treatment for sudden (acute) bursitis may include drainage of
excess fluid in the sac with a needle, followed by injections of medicines
into the sac to decrease inflammation and promote healing.
Treatment for ongoing (chronic) bursitis focuses on teaching you to avoid leaning on your elbows, protecting your elbows during sports
activities with elbow pads, and using anti-inflammatory medicines. Antibiotic
medicines may be needed to treat infection, and surgery may be needed to
drain or remove (excise) the bursa.
Primary Medical Reviewer
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.