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Elbow Bursitis is a Common RSI (Repetitive Stress Injury)

Elbow Bursitis is a Common RSI (Repetitive Stress Injury)

Elbow bursitis, or swelling and pain within the bursa, or the fluid-filled sacs between the tendons and bones, occurs when too much fluid has built up, causing inflammation, and eventually pain. There are actually several different possible causes of elbow bursitis, but some people never do discover what it was that caused the condition to appear.  Constant pressure on the elbows, rheumatoid arthritis, and injury to the area or infection are the most common culprits to blame for the often painful condition.

Signs and Symptoms of Elbow Bursitis

The most often reported symptoms of bursitis are pain and tenderness in the elbow joint, a decrease in range of motion or movement, and warmth and redness of the skin. Some people will also have a lump or area of swelling on the back of the elbow, especially after a trauma or injury to the joint as well as infection.

Diagnosis and Treatment

A doctor or physical therapist will begin the diagnosis of elbow bursitis with a visual examination of the area and ask a few questions about your overall health. They will also ask whether or not you could have possibly injured the area recently. If so, x-rays will be ordered to ensure there are no fractures causing the symptoms other than bursitis.  After a positive diagnosis of elbow bursitis, your doctor may recommend a four step treatment program commonly known as RICE, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate.


  • Rest: Resting the affected elbow as often as possible will help to reduce pain, inflammation and swelling to the area. Once you experience some relief, try to begin your normal movements again, taking care not to aggravate the bursitis.
  • Ice: Ice packs will help to reduce swelling as they cause the blood vessels to constrict, or get smaller. Only use ice for periods of 15 to 20 minutes, or as directed by your doctor. You should use them up to three to four times per day. Never sleep with an ice pack as you may run the risk of frostbite to the delicate skin covering the elbows.
  • Compress: Experienced health care professionals may sometimes wrap the elbow with a compress, usually an elastic bandage, to reduce swelling. It's important that the compress not be wrapped too tight to avoid further damage.
  • Elevate: To keep swelling at bay, elevate the arm above heart level with the use of some comfortable pillows.


Several types of medication are used for the treatment of elbow bursitis. The treatment includes antibiotics for infection, if any, steroids for decreasing inflammation, and NSAIDs, which are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs -- also used for reducing pain and swelling.

In extreme cases, surgery may be needed to drain the excess fluid from the elbow joint. In this process, the fluid drained will be sent to a laboratory for analysis to check for infection. Further surgical procedures, including the removal of the bursa may be necessary.

As with any repetitive stress injury (RSI), there are several things you can do at home to keep your symptoms at a minimum. Make sure you don’t hit or injure the elbows, keep pressure off of them while at work or at home, and take frequent breaks as well as doing stretching exercises periodically to loosen the muscles.  If swelling and pain increases or if you have a temperature, or if your symptoms don’t improve with home treatment after a week to 10 days, you should consult with your doctor.