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Olecranon bursitis
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed

Olecranon bursitis

Contributors: Katie Rizzone MD, MPH, Sandeep Mannava MD, PhD
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed


Causes / typical injury mechanism: Olecranon bursitis, also known as miner's elbow, student's elbow, and draftsman's elbow, is the swelling of the bursa over the olecranon process of the elbow. This superficial bursal sac's function is to provide cushioning for the bony olecranon process and consists of a lining of synovial cells. When these cells become inflamed and produce excess fluid, distention of the bursa occurs. Olecranon bursitis can result from an acute trauma or chronic pressure to the area.

Classic history and presentation: The most pathognomonic symptom is swelling in the posterior olecranon / elbow. It can be painless. It may or may not have associated erythema or warmth. Pain, erythema, and warmth are much more common in septic compared with aseptic bursitis but can be present in either condition. Fever is associated with septic bursitis. Approximately 80% of cases are aseptic (not infected).

This can rapidly go from aseptic bursitis to septic bursitis, so reevaluation is recommended after initial diagnosis, especially if risk factors are present such as uncontrolled diabetes mellitus type 2 or skin disruption.

Variant presentation: While less likely, a patient could have minimal swelling in the bursa even with septic bursitis.

Prevalence: There is little information on the incidence of this pathology, as it is often self-limiting. One study calculated it as 0.03% in the general population.
  • Age – This is unusual to see in the pediatric population; it is mainly an adult condition.
  • Sex / gender – The condition is more common in men, particularly those engaged in manual labor where impact is placed repetitively on the olecranon process.
Risk factors: The condition is more common in those engaged in manual labor where impact is placed repetitively on the olecranon process (eg, carpet layers, plumbers, gardeners). Sports where this is commonly diagnosed in athletes include hockey, wrestling, and gymnastics. It may be more commonly found in athletes who play on artificial turf versus a natural grass surface. Occupational risks include jobs where an individual is crawling on their arms or often resting arms on surfaces (eg, pest exterminator, administrative assistant).

Predisposing history includes a past medical history of gout, as monosodium urate crystals often deposit in superficial bursa. Bilateral olecranon bursitis is unusual and should raise suspicion for a gout diagnosis. Uncontrolled diabetes increases the risk for septic bursitis. Disruption of skin integrity from abrasions, dry skin, or trauma can also increase risk of bursal infection. Chronic hemodialysis also increases risk for the development of septic pathology.

Pathophysiology: The most common etiologies are –
  • Macrotrauma leading to a hemorrhagic bursitis
  • Repetitive microtrauma leading to an aseptic serous bursitis
  • Inflammatory (aseptic) bursitis from rheumatoid or gouty arthropathy
  • Septic bursitis
The most likely bacterial causes of septic bursitis are Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus spp.


M70.20 – Olecranon bursitis, unspecified elbow

425940002 – Inflammation of bursa of olecranon

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Last Reviewed:02/25/2021
Last Updated:03/23/2021
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Olecranon bursitis
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