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Elbow Bursitis Physiotherapy

Elbow (olecranon) bursitis, commonly known as

  • "baker's elbow"
  • "student's elbow" or
  • "Popeye elbow"

involves swelling at the tip of the elbow, on the back of the arm.

Elbow bursitis can be painless, or it can be painful at rest and when leaned on, as when writing with the arm pressing on a table. It can have many causes, but the most common is trauma, whether a direct hit, or smaller bumps or pressure applied over time.

Elbow bursitis is commonly seen in students or office workers who lean their elbows on hard desks or armrests for long periods of time; however, its occurrence is not related to any particular age or ethnic group.

This condition can also be caused by infection or autoimmune conditions. Sometimes, however, a specific cause cannot be determined.

Our senior hand therapists and physiotherapists treat individuals with elbow bursitis to

What is Elbow Bursitis?

Elbow bursitis (also called olecranon bursitis) happens when the bursa (a fluid-filled sac on the tip of the elbow) becomes

  • damaged
  • irritated
  • inflamed

Normally, the bursa acts as a cushion for the tip of the elbow (ulna) bone. But certain types of

  • pressure
  • traumatic blows
  • repetitive motions

can cause constant friction or irritation of the bursa, leading to the development of bursitis ("itis" means "inflammation of"). When the bursa becomes injured, it can swell and become painful.

Elbow bursitis can be caused by:

  • Repetitive motions (playing sports, such as tennis or golf; prolonged leaning on the elbows, as when typing on a computer keyboard)
  • Direct trauma (being hit or falling on the tip of the elbow)
  • Elbow surgery or replacement
  • Infection
  • Autoimmune conditions

How Does Elbow Bursitis Feel?

With elbow bursitis, you may experience:

  • Swelling on the tip or back of the elbow
  • Redness on the tip of the elbow
  • Pain when you push with your fingers on the tip of the back of the elbow
  • Pain when leaning on the arm, as when the arm is resting on an armrest or on the edge of a desk or table
  • Joint stiffness in the elbow joint, and difficulty bending the elbow

How Is It Diagnosed?

If you see our senior hand therapists or senior physiotherapists first, we will conduct a thorough evaluation that includes taking your health history. We will also ask you detailed questions about your injury, such as:

  • How and when did you notice the swelling and/or pain?
  • Have you been performing any repetitive activity?
  • Did you receive a direct hit to the elbow, fall on it, or lean on it for a long period of time?

We also will perform special tests to help determine the likelihood that you have elbow bursitis.

We will gently press on the back side of the elbow to see if it is painful to the touch, and may use additional tests to determine if other parts of your elbow are injured. We also will observe how you can move your elbow and arm, and test your strength and flexibility.

Your physical therapist will test and screen for other, more serious conditions that could cause elbow pain or swelling.

To provide a definitive diagnosis, we may collaborate with an orthopedic physician or other health care provider, who may order further tests, such as an x-ray to confirm the diagnosis and to rule out other damage to the elbow, such as a fracture or infection.

how our senior physiotherapists and senior hand therapists can help

We will work with you to design a specific treatment program that will speed your recovery, including exercises and treatments that you can do at home.

Hand therapy and physiotherapy will help you return to your normal lifestyle and activities. The time it takes to heal the condition varies, but results can be achieved in 2 to 8 weeks or less, when a proper

During the first 24 to 48 hours following your diagnosis, we may advise you to:

  • Apply light compression by wrapping the elbow a specific way, using a compressive wrap.
  • Rest the area by avoiding any activity that causes pressure or pain on the elbow.
  • Apply cold therapy to the area for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 hours.
  • Consult with a physician for further services, such as medication or diagnostic tests.

We will work with you to:

Reduce Pain and Reduce Swelling

If repetitive activities have caused the elbow bursitis, we will help you understand how to avoid or modify the activities, to allow healing to begin. We may use different types of treatments and electrothermal modalities to control and reduce your pain and swelling.

Improve Motion

We will choose specific activities and treatments to help restore normal movement in the elbow and arm. These might begin with "passive" motions that our therapist performs for you to gently move your elbow joint, and progress to active exercises and stretches that you do yourself.

Improve Flexibility

We will determine if any of your arm muscles are tight, start helping you to stretch them, and teach you how to stretch them.

Improve Strength

If we finds any weak or injured elbow muscles, we will choose, and teach you, the correct exercises and equipment to steadily restore your strength and agility.

Improve Endurance

Restoring your arm's muscular endurance is important after an injury. We will develop a program of activities to help you regain the endurance you had before the injury, so you can return to doing the things you like to do.

Learn a Home Program

We will teach you strengthening and stretching exercises to perform at home. These exercises will be specific for your needs; if you do them as prescribed by our senior hand therapist and senior physiotherapist, you can speed your recovery.

Return to Activities

We will discuss your activity goals with you and use them to set your work, sport, and home-life recovery goals. Your treatment program will help you reach your goals in the safest, fastest, and most effective way possible. We will teach you

  • exercises
  • work retraining activities
  • sport-specific techniques and drills to help you achieve your goals

Speed Recovery Time

We are trained and experienced in choosing the best treatments and exercises to help you safely heal, return to your normal lifestyle, and reach your goals faster than you are likely to do on your own.

If Surgery Is Necessary

Surgery is not commonly required for elbow bursitis, but if surgery is needed, you will follow a recovery program over several weeks, guided by your physical therapist. Your physical therapist will help you minimize swelling and pain, regain motion and strength, and return to normal activities in the safest and speediest manner possible.