Elbow Bursitis Treatment: What Are Your Options For Relief?

elbow bursitis

Do you feel a nagging ache around your elbow that refuses to go away? Imagine reaching out to grasp your morning coffee and being greeted with sharp pain. It’s more than an inconvenience; it might be a warning sign of elbow bursitis, a condition that could seriously affect your daily life if left untreated.

Elbow bursitis, though common, is often misunderstood. It’s not just an ‘athlete’s problem’ or a fleeting annoyance; it’s a medical condition that requires proper understanding and care.  So, join us as we explore the causes of this ailment, effective treatments, and practical prevention strategies to ensure that the pain in your elbow doesn’t become a lasting part of your life.

Understanding Elbow Bursitis

Elbow bursitis is more than just a random ache or stiffness in your arm; it’s a medical condition that can interfere with everyday activities and significantly reduce your quality of life. But what exactly is elbow bursitis? Let’s break it down:

What is Elbow Bursitis?

Elbow bursitis is the inflammation of the bursa, a small fluid-filled sac located between the tip of your elbow (olecranon) and the skin. This bursa acts as a cushion, reducing friction between tissues such as skin, muscles, and bones.

Symptoms of Elbow Bursitis

You might be experiencing elbow bursitis if you notice:

  • Swelling at the tip of the elbow
  • Pain or tenderness, especially when pressing the elbow
  • Stiffness or restricted movement
  • Warmth or redness around the affected area

How Does Elbow Bursitis Happen?

While a sudden injury can lead to bursitis, it often develops gradually due to repetitive motions or prolonged pressure on the elbow. It can also be a result of underlying conditions like arthritis or gout.

Differentiating Elbow Bursitis from Other Conditions

It’s crucial not to confuse elbow bursitis with other elbow-related issues like tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow, as the treatments may vary. A proper medical diagnosis is vital for appropriate care.

So, understanding elbow bursitis is the first step in managing the condition. By recognizing the symptoms and knowing how it develops, you’re better equipped to seek professional help if needed and take proactive steps towards recovery and prevention. Remember, a pain in the elbow today doesn’t have to be a problem tomorrow.

Common Causes of Elbow Bursitis

Common Causes of Elbow Bursitis

Understanding the root causes of elbow bursitis can empower you to take control of your symptoms and pave the way for effective prevention and treatment. Let’s explore the various culprits behind this condition:

Repetitive Motion

Activities that require constant bending or lifting of the elbow can lead to irritation of the bursa. This is commonly seen in professions like assembly line workers, plumbers, or gardeners, and in hobbies like knitting or playing certain musical instruments.

Trauma or Injury

A direct blow or fall on the elbow might cause immediate swelling and inflammation of the bursa. Even minor bumps or bruises, when repeated, can escalate into bursitis.

Prolonged Pressure

Resting your elbow on hard surfaces for extended periods, such as when driving or working at a desk, can cause pressure on the bursa, leading to irritation and inflammation.

Underlying Health Conditions

Medical conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, gout, or an infection within the bursa can all lead to elbow bursitis. It’s vital to address the root disease, as treating bursitis symptoms alone in these cases may not provide long-term relief.

Age-Related Factors

As we age, the likelihood of developing bursitis increases, especially if combined with other risk factors like obesity or a sedentary lifestyle.

Sports Activities

Athletes involved in sports that place a repetitive strain on the elbow, like tennis, baseball, or golf, may be at higher risk for developing bursitis.

Bursitis doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all cause. It can emerge from various factors ranging from our daily habits to underlying health conditions. Awareness of these causes is the first line of defense, helping you make informed decisions to protect your elbow health. If you recognize any of these risk factors in your life, consider discussing them with a healthcare provider to take preventive measures and ensure that your elbows remain strong and pain-free.

Diagnostic Techniques for Elbow Bursitis

Diagnostic Techniques for Elbow BursitisDiagnosing elbow bursitis is a systematic process that helps pinpoint the underlying cause and determine the best course of treatment. Various methods and technologies are used, including:

  • Clinical Examination:
    • Patient History: Understanding the patient’s medical history, activities, and specific symptoms.
    • Physical Inspection: Examining the elbow’s appearance and palpating the area to assess swelling, tenderness, and warmth.
    • Range of Motion Tests: Evaluating the movement of the elbow to identify any limitations or discomfort.
  • Medical Imaging:
    • X-rays: Utilized to rule out bone abnormalities, fractures, or arthritis that might be contributing to the symptoms.
    • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): Offers detailed images of soft tissues, aiding in the detection of subtle changes in the bursa or surrounding structures.
    • Ultrasound: Can provide real-time imaging of the elbow joint, allowing a dynamic assessment of the affected area.
  • Laboratory Tests:
    • Blood Tests: May be used to detect underlying inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or gout.
    • Aspiration of Bursal Fluid: Extracting fluid from the bursa with a needle and analyzing it to rule out infection or other underlying conditions.
  • Professional Consultation:
    • Orthopedic Specialist Evaluation: Consultation with an orthopedic specialist may be necessary for a comprehensive assessment, especially in persistent or complex cases.
    • Physical Therapist Assessment: A physical therapist may evaluate the elbow’s function to devise a rehabilitation plan tailored to the individual’s needs.

This multi-faceted approach ensures that treatment is not just addressing the symptoms but targeting the root issue, paving the way for more effective recovery and prevention. If you suspect you may have elbow bursitis, seeking professional medical evaluation is the critical first step towards relief and healing.

Effective Treatment Options for Elbow Bursitis

Effective Treatment Options for Elbow Bursitis

Finding the right treatment for elbow bursitis is essential to alleviate pain and promote healing. Treatment options vary based on the severity and cause of the condition. Here’s a detailed overview:

Conservative Treatments

  • Rest and Immobilization: Allowing the elbow to rest and using supports like splints or braces can help reduce irritation.
  • Ice Application: Applying ice packs can minimize swelling and alleviate discomfort.
  • Over-the-Counter Medications: Nonprescription anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen can help manage pain and inflammation.
  • Physical Therapy: Guided exercises and stretches with a physical therapist can restore mobility and strength.

Medical Interventions

  • Prescription Medications: Based on the diagnosis, your doctor may prescribe stronger anti-inflammatory drugs or antibiotics if an infection is present.
  • Corticosteroid Injections: In some cases, an injection directly into the bursa can reduce inflammation quickly.
  • Aspiration: Removing fluid from the bursa with a needle might be necessary, particularly if there is a significant swelling.

Surgical Options

  • Bursal Resection: In chronic or severe cases where conservative treatments fail, surgical removal of the bursa might be recommended.
  • Arthroscopic Surgery: Utilizing a small camera and instruments, this minimally invasive procedure allows for detailed examination and treatment.
  • Rehabilitation: Post-surgery, a tailored rehabilitation program with physical therapy may be necessary for optimal recovery.

Alternative Therapies

  • Acupuncture: Some find relief through acupuncture, which involves inserting thin needles into specific body points.
  • Massage Therapy: Therapeutic massage can help in easing tension and promoting circulation around the affected area.

Elbow bursitis treatment is a journey that might require a combination of these options. A collaborative approach involving healthcare professionals, including general practitioners, orthopedic specialists, and physical therapists, ensures a comprehensive care plan tailored to your needs.

Exercises Included in Physical Therapy

Physical therapy plays a vital role in the treatment and prevention of elbow bursitis. It can help reduce pain, improve mobility, and strengthen the muscles around the elbow. Here are some exercises often included in the rehabilitation process:

Elbow Flexion and Extension

Elbow Flexion and Extension

  • Purpose: Improve range of motion in the elbow.
  • How to Do It:
    • Sit in a chair with your arm at your side.
    • Slowly bend and straighten your elbow.
    • Repeat 10-15 times for 2-3 sets.

Forearm Pronation and Supination

  • Purpose: Strengthen the muscles controlling rotation in the forearm.
  • How to Do It:
    • Hold a lightweight object like a water bottle in your hand.
    • With your elbow bent at 90 degrees, rotate your forearm inward and outward.
    • Perform 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets.

Wrist Flexor Stretch

Wrist Flexor Stretch (1) (1)

  • Purpose: Stretch the muscles of the forearm and reduce tension.
  • How to Do It:
    • Extend your arm in front of you with the wrist bent back.
    • Gently press on the back of your hand to stretch the wrist and forearm.
    • Hold for 15-30 seconds, repeat 2-3 times.

Grip Strengthening

  • Purpose: Enhance grip strength and forearm control.
  • How to Do It:
    • Squeeze a soft ball or stress-relief toy in your hand.
    • Hold for 3-5 seconds, and release.
    • Perform 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets.

Tricep Stretch

Tricep Stretch

  • Purpose: Improve flexibility and alleviate stiffness in the triceps.
  • How to Do It:
    • Raise your arm above your head and bend your elbow, reaching your hand down your back.
    • Gently push on your elbow with the opposite hand.
    • Hold for 15-30 seconds, repeat 2-3 times on each side.

Elbow bursitis can be a setback, but with the right exercises, you’re paving the way to recovery. Remember, each of us is unique—what works for one might not work for another. That’s where PhysioMantra steps in. Our expert physical therapists and healthcare providers are dedicated to understanding your specific condition, ensuring you’re not just following a routine, but the right routine. With PhysioMantra, you’re not getting generic advice; you’re getting a personalized program sculpted for you.

Recovery and Rehabilitation

Recovery from elbow bursitis is a process that demands patience and proper guidance. The journey varies between individuals, but here’s a concise look at what it typically involves:

  • Immediate Care and Rest
  • Rehabilitation with Physical Therapy
  • Ongoing Management and Prevention

Potential Recovery Timelines

  • Mild Cases: Generally heal within a few weeks with proper care and rest.
  • Moderate to Severe Cases: May take several months, especially if medical intervention is required.
  • Post-Surgery Recovery: Can vary widely, usually taking a few months, and involving a more detailed rehabilitation plan.


Elbow bursitis is more than a mere inconvenience; it’s a condition that can hinder daily activities and diminish quality of life. But it doesn’t have to be a lifelong struggle. From understanding the causes to exploring diagnostic techniques, treatments, and exercises, the road to recovery is well within reach.

At PhysioMantra, we specialize in bringing that roadmap to life. Our dedicated professionals are trained in the art and science of physical therapy, delivering tailor-made programs that address your specific needs. If you’re experiencing Elbow pain, physical therapy for elbow pain at PhysioMantra can help: Book an online physical therapy session.