Conditions General

Dealing With Olecranon Bursitis

You may have heard of a condition known as tennis elbow, but did you know that there is one called “students elbow”? (Patient.co.uk, 2015) Also known as olecranon bursitis, it is when the small sac of fluid, known as a bursa, that covers the elbow becomes irritated and fills with fluid.

The bursa over the elbow is in place to allow the skin to move easily over the joint. When in a healthy condition it is flat and unnoticeable, but when it fills with fluid it becomes extremely noticeable and can be uncomfortable. Interestingly enough, not all instances of olecranon bursitis cause pain or discomfort at all.

Why Did I Get This Condition?

What is the cause for this unusual swelling at the elbow? Generally, it is caused when the area is irritated. This can mean that a hard blow to the elbow occurred and the sac has filled with fluid due to that injury, but it gets the name “students elbow” because it also commonly occurs in those who lean heavily on their elbows for long periods of time – as in the way that many students put elbows on their desks while listening to teachers or studying.

Of course, students arent the only ones prone to leaning overly long and heavily on their elbows. Telephone operators, long distance drivers, exercise instructors and people in gyms, computer workers, and many people with “desk jobs” may find themselves putting their elbows on hard surfaces and applying too much weight or pressure.

Additional causes include certain diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, or conditions like gout. Medical treatments like dialysis have been known to trigger olecranon bursitis, and infection is also a common cause – such as a cut to the elbow. Finally, there are also idiopathic cases where no cause can be uncovered.

Generally, it is the swelling that allows someone to discover they have the condition, and though mild swelling may be present there are also many cases in which the swelling can reach the size of a small golf ball.

Treating Students Elbow

Diagnosing the condition is straightforward, though a thorough medical history is taken to be sure it is not related to one of the diseases that olecranon bursitis is commonly related to. Should disease be present, this first must be managed before treatment for the swelling is done.

Generally, the most common course of action is to refrain from any further leaning or pressure on the joint. In some cases a “resting splint” is used to prevent further irritation, and compression may also be used to help alleviate fluid accumulation.

Should the swelling be too substantial, a physician may decide to remove fluid through an aspiration technique. This is commonly an in-office procedure that is followed up by antibiotics to prevent or remedy an infection. Should the condition prove difficult to manage or overcome, there are surgical and medical options such as cortisone injections and ongoing aspiration.

The key is to not ignore olecranon bursitis. It may seem like a harmless bit of swelling, but it should not be ignored. Your hand surgeon or specialist can help you deal with the condition and prevent it from becoming a problem.


Patient.co.uk. Olecranon Bursitis (Students Elbow). 2015. http://www.patient.co.uk/health/olecranon-bursitis-students-elbow