At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, where we specialize in problems of the back and joints, we see a fair number of cases of elbow bursitis. This condition occurs in the fluid-filled sac at the bony tip of the elbow, known as the olecranon bursa. Our doctors are physiatrists, focused on relieving pain and restoring function without surgical intervention, so elbow bursitis is right up our alley. If you are suffering pain and swelling at the elbow, contact us for an accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment.  

What is elbow bursitis?

Bursae, located at a great many joints in the body, assist in easing movement as tendons, ligaments, muscles, and skin glide over bones. Tiny, slippery sacs of fluid, bursae provide cushions to reduce friction between surfaces during joint movement. 

Under normal circumstances, bursae hold only a minimal amount of fluid, but if irritated they can become inflamed and fill with excess fluid. When this occurs at the elbow, patients experience the pain and restricted mobility of elbow bursitis.

Causes of Elbow Bursitis

There are a number of common causes of elbow bursitis, though patients are sometimes unaware of the cause of their particular problem. Common causes of elbow bursitis include:

  • Trauma to the site, such as hitting the elbow against a hard surface, landing on the elbow during a fall
  • Injury to the elbow while engaging in sports activities, such as football, hockey, volleyball or basketball
  • Resting the elbow on a hard surface for extended periods, for instance when studying or typing on a computer keyboard (commonly known as “student’s elbow”)
  • Working at an occupation in which weight is often put on the elbow, e.g. plumbing, mining, gardening, automotive or other mechanical repair
  • Developing an infection in the elbow bursa as a result of a penetrating scrape, puncture wound or insect bite 
  • Having a medical condition that affects the joints, like gout or rheumatoid arthritis, makes you more prone to developing elbow bursitis

Our doctors are well-respected diagnosticians, but whether or not we can pinpoint the source of your elbow bursitis, we can certainly help you heal. We offer a broad range of treatments, all nonsurgical, that will alleviate your pain and help you regain full range of motion.

Symptoms of Elbow Bursitis

The earliest sign of elbow bursitis may be swelling at the back of the elbow or the pain that accompanies that swelling. Depending on the patients’ pain thresholds, it may be days or weeks for them to seek medical attention. As with most medical conditions, the sooner a qualified professional takes a look, the sooner the condition can be remedied.

Symptoms of elbow bursitis may include:

  • Swelling at the back of the elbow which may not be noticeable at first because the skin at the site is naturally loose
  • Pain that develops as swelling increases, putting direct pressure on the elbow as it rests on a hard surface or bends, eventually restricting motion of the joint
  • Redness and warmth to the touch if the bursa becomes infected

It should be noted that infection in the elbow bursa (or anywhere in the body) should be treated quickly since otherwise it may spread to other parts of the arm or even enter the bloodstream. You should be aware that if you develop a fever or pus spontaneously drains from the site, the situation is very serious and urgent medical attention is required. 


If you are experiencing any of the above-mentioned symptoms, you should make an appointment at one of our five conveniently located Long Island offices. You will find our staff welcoming, concerned with your comfort, and efficient in getting to the heart of the problem.

After discussing your symptoms and medical history, we will examine your arm and elbow. Depending on what we find, we may administer X-rays to rule out other potential issues, such as a foreign body in the elbow or a bone spur. Bone spurs are more likely if you have had repeated instances of elbow bursitis.

The next step is to take a needle sample of the fluid in your elbow bursa. This will show whether you have gout or an infection, either of which we can treat with medication (anti-inflammatories for gout, antibiotics for infection).


No matter whether your bursitis is related to an injury, an infection, ongoing pressure put on your elbow joint, or an unknown cause, our doctors have several options available to treat your pain and limited mobility. These include:

  • An elbow pad to protect the joint
  • Recommended changes in daily activities
  • Targeted physical therapy (i.e. exercises, light compression, applied ice packs)
  • Oral medications (e.g. ibuprofen or prednisone) 
  • Ultrasound-guided injections of painkiller and anti-inflammatory at the site
  • Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (PEMF) therapy
  • Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections
  • Acupuncture

Your doctor will explain in detail which of these options is best in your case, paying close attention to your own preferences and concerns. As you can see, we offer both traditional and complementary therapies, most often in combination, so that your recovery can go as quickly as possible.

Contact Our Experienced Doctors Today So You Can Begin Healing Tomorrow

At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, we are tuned in to your particular needs. Our goal is to get you up and running and to keep you healthy, active, and pain-free. Don’t live with the pain and restrictions of elbow bursitis. Get in touch with us and begin moving in the right direction.