Health Information and Tools > Patient Care Handouts >  Elbow Bursitis: Care Instructions

Main Content

Elbow Bursitis: Care Instructions


Bursitis is pain and swelling of the bursae. These are sacs of fluid that help your joints move smoothly. Olecranon bursitis is a type of bursitis that affects the back of the elbow.

Injury, overuse, or prolonged pressure on your elbow can cause this form of bursitis. Sometimes it happens when people have arthritis. It also can occur for unknown reasons.

Treatment includes avoiding activities that cause pain or that put pressure on the elbow. This helps protect the area while it heals. If your doctor thinks there is an infection, you may be prescribed antibiotics. Most people get better in a few weeks. If the problem doesn't go away, you may need other medicines or treatments.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • If your doctor gave you a sling, an elastic bandage, or a splint, wear it exactly as instructed. Make sure that you gently bend and straighten your elbow each day if you are using a sling, bandage, or splint. This will help prevent elbow stiffness.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on your elbow for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when you are awake) or until the swelling goes down. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • After 2 or 3 days, you can try applying heat to your elbow. Apply heat for 10 to 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. You might also try switching between ice and heat.
  • Rest your elbow. Try to stop or reduce any activity that causes pain.
  • Wear elbow pads during physical activity to prevent injury.
  • Do not lean your elbows on tables or armrests.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

Enter B779 in the search box to learn more about "Elbow Bursitis: Care Instructions".

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.