The body is a miraculous thing— it has built-in protection systems to keep organs, bones, and other vital mechanisms safe. From eyelashes to keep dust and debris away from our eyes, to fingernails that prevent damage to our distal phalanx, each of us is born with a comprehensive set of safeguards that shield us from pain and discomfort.
The bursa, a liquid-filled sac that covers the tip of our elbows, is one of these incredible naturally-occurring safety features. Think of it as a little cushion that prevents you from shattering any bones when you bang your elbow on a chair or land on your arm joint during a fall. How amazing it that?
Unfortunately, however, this small cushion is prone to a condition called elbow bursitis, an unpleasant infection that can lead to a range of unwanted symptoms.
We have decided to compile some information related to this condition, as it is one of the many ailments Dr. Shwartz is expertly qualified to treat.
What causes bursitis of the elbow?
There are several circumstances that can result in the onset of elbow bursitis.
Some of the most common causes include:
If an individual suffers a blow to the elbow, it is possible that the bursa sac in the elbow will become infected. This occurs because the bursa will begin to excrete excess fluid in an attempt to protect the area, making it an ideal breeding ground for bacteria and other microbes.
If you spend a lot of time leaning on your elbow, or you engage in physical activity that requires the continuous use of your elbow, you’re at an increased risk of developing infected bursae of the elbow. Plumbers, confined space rescue attendants, and construction workers are also more likely to develop elbow bursitis as their jobs require them to crawl through tight spaces, putting extra pressure on the arm joints.
Cuts and other abrasions to the skin are prone to being invaded by bacteria. This often leads to elbow bursitis. If you have scraped your elbow, been bitten by an insect, or experienced any sort of skin lesion near this area of the body, it’s important to have your wound examined by a physician. They will be able to provide you with anti-bacterial ointment and ensure your lesion is properly dressed to keep germs out.
What are the symptoms of an infected bursitis elbow?
The symptoms of elbow bursitis are similar to those of any other type of infection. Commonly, the first sign a patient will notice is swelling in the area of the elbow. It’s important to note, however, that swelling typically increases over time and may not be immediately noticeable or concerning.
If the swelling persists, patients may begin to notice that the area feels hot to the touch and appears red in color. These are signs that the infection is worsening.
Lastly, a person experiencing elbow bursitis may experience pain or discomfort when they press on the elbow, or when bending their arm.
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, it’s crucial to have a healthcare professional examine the area so that they can recommend the appropriate bursitis elbow treatment.
What treatment options are available for elbow bursitis?
There are two methods of treatment that can be applied when remedying an infected bursa sac in the elbow.
These two treatment options are:
This is unquestionably the most preferred treatment option for elbow bursitis and is usually the go-to solution for orthopedic physicians.
This treatment route involves removing any excess fluid from the area and prescribing antibiotics to fight off the existing infection. Most cases of infected bursitis elbow can be treated with oral antibiotics, but more severe cases may require these medications to be administered intravenously.
Your doctor may also administer a cortisone injection, which will lower your body’s inflammatory response and prevent the area from becoming sore and swollen again in the future.
In rare cases, the affected elbow doesn’t respond to the non-surgical methods listed above. When this happens, your orthopedic physician will have to resort to a surgical elbow bursitis treatment.
On a positive note, elbow surgery for bursitis is a quick procedure and is performed under general anesthesia. Most patients are only hospitalized for a day while they receive intravenous antibiotics to fight off infection. If the area shows no sign of bacterial infection, it is reasonable to assume the patient will return home that same day.
What can patients expect from the recovery process?
Recovering from elbow bursitis surgery is relatively simple, compared to other types of surgeries. Your doctor may apply a splint or brace to your elbow to impede movement while the site heals, or pad the area so as to avoid any further injury. This can be mildly inconvenient but is an essential part of the healing process.
Patients typically regain a full range of motion approximately one month after their operation.
Your physician may also recommend physical therapy to help you restore flexibility and strength. This is particularly important for patients who play sports, or who require a full range of motion to complete workplace duties. A physical therapist can tailor their training to help the patient meet their unique activity goals.
What can patients do to prevent bursitis of the elbow?
Dr. Schwartz recommends following the precautions below to avoid elbow bursitis:
- Avoid frequently applying pressure to the elbow
- Wear elbow pads and other protective gear when playing sports
- Always stretch and prepare your body before playing sports
- If you work a desk job where leaning on your elbow is unavoidable, place a cushion or some form of padding beneath the elbow
- Ask your physician about wearing an elbow sleeve or protective brace if you suspect you may be prone to this condition
- Apply cold compresses after intense physical activity
Do you suspect you may have elbow bursitis? Contact Dr. Schwartz today to book an examination!