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Elbow bursitis

Find out about this elbow condition, how it is diagnosed and treatment options.

Bursitis is caused by the inflammation of the bursae, a small sac containing fluid which acts as a cushion between the bones and overlying soft tissue. Elbow bursitis affects the elbow and is sometimes known as “Popeye elbow”.   

The inflammation can either be caused by overuse, or injury if you hurt your arm. It is common among people who play sports, and those who do repetitive motions at work or for a hobby.   

You are more likely to develop bursitis as you get older, and conditions such as arthritis, gout and diabetes can also increase your risk.

The following symptoms can indicate a case of elbow bursitis:   
  • A dull, aching pain;   
  • Tenderness around your elbow;  
  • A feeling of warmth on your elbow;  
  • Swelling and,  
  • Increased pain when you press or touch your elbow.  
If you experience any of these symptoms, we can diagnose and treat your condition.   

Elbow bursitis is most often caused by overuse. This is often due to playing sports, but it can also be caused by everyday activities, especially those that involve repetitive motions.   

It’s also possible for an injury or trauma to cause bursitis, so if you hit your elbow, or your elbow is hit by an object, then the condition can occur.   

Issues such as rheumatoid arthritis and infection can also cause elbow bursitis.   

Diagnosis of elbow bursitis

  • When you meet with your doctor, they will discuss your elbow pain in depth. This will help them reach an accurate diagnosis. They might ask:  
  • How was your elbow injured?  
  • Have you had a previous injury to your elbow?  
  • Do you have any other symptoms, even if they’re seemingly unrelated to your elbow?  

They will carry out a physical examination of your elbow and an assessment of your medical history. 

You will might need an X-Ray of your elbow. X-ray is an imaging technique that is used to show up abnormalities in bones and certain body tissue.  

X-rays usually use low amounts of radiation, so the risk to your health is very small. An X-ray should take 15-30 minutes and is carried out by a radiographer. A consultant radiologist will provide the results.  

Occasionally, other imaging techniques are used, such as ultrasound or a CT scan. Your Consultant will explain these tests to you if they are needed.   

There are several ways bursitis can be treated by experts at Circle Health Group. The treatment you receive will depend in your individual condition and needs.   

At home treatment

Elbow bursitis requires is rest and a prolonged period of not taking part in activities which aggravate the bursa. Once the initial pain has eased off, stretching exercises and physical therapy can offer some relief.  


According to the National Institute of Health Research, physiotherapy services are an important way to prevent and reduce the negative impacts of musculoskeletal conditions, improving patients’ lives.  

Circle Health Group physiotherapists can work with you to create a programme of exercises that will help your elbow to get back to normal. Starting off gently, these physical therapies will help to build strength and restore motion to your arm.     

Your physical therapist will recommend strengthening exercises for you to do several times a day. It is important to follow your exercise regime diligently to reap its benefits.    

Learn more about physiotherapy and elbow pain exercises here.  

Steroid injections

Steroids can reduce inflammation, so injecting this medicine into the affected area may ease your symptoms. You might be given a local anaesthetic for the procedure.   

The relief offered by steroid injections is temporary, so you will likely have to have them every few months.   


In very rare cases, your Consultant might recommend that you have surgery to drain the inflamed bursa. This is only done if other methods are not effective at treating your condition.   

Elbow bursitis can be frustrating and painful, but it’s important to know that good help is available. You are not alone.  

Receiving care from an experienced Consultant at your nearest Circle hospital can help you to recover as quickly as possible. They will assess and diagnose your elbow pain and then discuss the treatment recommended for your specific situation.   

To schedule your visit, book a specialist appointment online today.