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Bursitis of the Elbow in Children: Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

Bursitis is pain and swelling of the bursae, which are sacs of fluid that help the joints move smoothly. Olecranon bursitis is a type of bursitis that affects the back of the elbow. This is sometimes called Popeye elbow, because the bump that develops looks like the cartoon character Popeye's elbow.

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

Treatment may include draining fluid from the bursa with a needle. If your doctor thought there was infection, he or she may have prescribed antibiotics. Your child also may get shots of medicine into the bursa to help the swelling go down. The elbow should get better in a few days or weeks.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's 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 your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Put ice or a cold pack on the elbow for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. (Put a thin cloth between the ice and your child's skin.) Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when your child is awake) or until the swelling goes down.
  • After 3 days of using ice, you may use heat on the area. You can use a hot water bottle; a warm, moist towel; or a heating pad set on low.
  • Help your child rest the elbow. Tell him or her to stop or reduce any activity that causes pain.
  • Give pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it as prescribed.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask the doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If the doctor prescribed antibiotics, give them to your child as directed. Do not stop giving them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • If the doctor gave you a sling, an elastic bandage, or a compression sleeve, help your child wear it exactly as instructed.
  • Have your child wear elbow pads during physical activity to prevent injury.
  • Teach your child not to lean his or her 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:

  • Your child has 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 child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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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.