By Corey Lewis, CPT, CSCS
It’s sunny, it’s warm, and you’re finally heading out onto the tennis court to enjoy the day. You take a few practice swings with your racket and feel great.
But then disaster strikes. After a particularly hard swing, the outside of your elbow starts hurting badly. Your day out playing tennis is certainly done as you realize you’re now dealing with the dreaded tennis elbow and have to wonder about elbow bursitis treatment.
Elbow bursitis occurs when the tip of the elbow becomes inflamed or irritated. This area on your body is home to a bursa, a sac filled with fluid that cushions your bones, tendons, and muscles.
While bursas are quite small, trauma to one can be quite painful. They’re actually located all across your body. Other common bursitis locations include the hip, heel, shoulder, and elbow.
Bursitis pain in the elbow can manifest in many different ways other than from swinging a tennis racket or a golf club. The effects of inflammation can even extend pain down to your hand and make it difficult to open doors, write, or even move your elbow at all.
You’re probably going to know when you have elbow bursitis. Many people just assume they’ve sprained the joint, but they quickly learn that what is good for sprains will not make a case of elbow bursitis feel better.
Yes, sadly, pretty much any case of elbow bursitis will be accompanied by pain. Your elbow is going to hurt as the bursa stretches and fills up with excess fluid. Pain often makes it hard to move your elbow and twist it, which can be particularly cumbersome if you’re trying to drive, cook, or carry out other normal daily activities.
Swelling is another key symptom of elbow bursitis that separates it from other common elbow injuries. Since the skin on the back of your elbow is pretty loose, you might not actually notice any swelling immediately after an injury. But note that the absence of swelling does not mean you should totally ignore the possibility of bursitis.
An infected bursa will eventually feel warm and turn your skin red. Noticing redness means you should treat the injured elbow as soon as possible, as an infected bursa could spread germs across other parts of your arm or even into your bloodstream. This could lead to a serious illness. Some infected bursas will start to drain pus and open up. Be sure to have a doctor examine your arm and elbow if you notice this occurring.
It’s a smart move to head to the doctor if you suspect a case of elbow bursitis. You might think it’s an injury you can tackle on your own, but a qualified physician will be able to rule out other contributing factors.
For example, you might think you hurt your elbow playing a sport, but conditions like gout and rheumatoid arthritis are also associated with elbow bursitis.
Some who suffer from repeated bouts of elbow bursitis actually have a bone spur or another foreign object in their elbow, which requires the help of a qualified medical professional to remove.
Physicians are able to extract and examine the fluid inside an inflamed bursa to determine if the bursitis is due to an infection or another issue.
There’s a wide range of treatment options for elbow bursitis. One of the most important is to simply rest your elbow. While not being able to exercise or enjoy playing sports might seem like a bummer, an elbow that’s not completely healed is just going to lead to more pain and complications down the road. Rest gives the tendons in your elbow time to heal.
Applying an ice pack or cold compress to your elbow is an easy way to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. Get into a pattern of applying a cold compress for 15–20 minutes and then removing it for several minutes to prevent a cold burn on your skin.
In cases of sudden elbow bursitis, doctors are often able to drain the inflamed bursa of fluid and then inject medication to expedite healing. In extreme cases, surgery might be required to drain a bursa, but most people with elbow bursitis are able to receive a prescription for anti-inflammatory pills to manage the pain and promote healing.
If you’re often playing sports or competing at a high athletic level, consider investing in elbow pads while you’re exercising to keep your elbow stable and secure. The less your elbow moves (on and off the athletic field) while you recover, the quicker you will heal from elbow bursitis.
Don’t feel like there’s nothing you can do to prevent elbow bursitis. Taking time to perform a strength training exercise regimen for your arm and elbow will go a long way toward preventing injury. Many of these stretches, combined with massage therapy, can also help rehabilitate elbow bursitis.
To perform a flexion stretch, face your palms up to your face and lift your arm so your elbow bends. Next, gently push on your forearm with your other hand until you feel a stretch in the back of your upper arm. Hold the pose for at least 15 seconds.
First, stretch out your arm with your palm facing away. Bend your wrist back so your hand is facing up to the ceiling. Then bend your wrist with your other hand until you feel a mild stretch in your forearm. Hold the stretch for at least 15 seconds.
Proper stretching will help you recover from a case of elbow bursitis. It can also serve as a strong preventative measure of injury by keeping your elbow tendons and muscles strong and flexible. Just take care not to start stretching or engaging in other therapeutic activities until the inflammation in the elbow has subsided.
Bursitis is one of the most common orthopedic conditions. But there are plenty of elbow bursitis treatment options to help your body recover and reduce the chances of bursitis occurring again.
If you have a job or play a sport where your elbow receives pressure, investing in special arm sleeves or other protective padding is a prudent investment. This can prevent recurrent inflammation of your elbow bursa.
If you liked this article, then be sure to read up on exercises for patellar tendonitis, too.