Bursitis of the Elbow: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Bursitis is pain and swelling of the bursae, which are sacs of fluid that help your 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 your 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. You also may get shots of medicine into the bursa to help the swelling go down. Your elbow should get better in a few days or weeks.

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 call line 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?

  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
    • 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 compression sleeve, wear it exactly as instructed.
  • 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 3 days, you can try heat, or alternate heat and ice.
  • 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 call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your pain is worse.
  • You have new or increased swelling in your elbow.
  • You have a fever.
  • Your elbow becomes red, or the redness gets worse.
  • You were given a shot and you have any bleeding or signs of infection (pain, swelling, redness, or pus) around the site of the shot.
  • You cannot use a joint, or the pain in a joint gets worse.

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

  • Your pain has not improved after 2 weeks.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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Current as of: March 21, 2017