Patient Information Resources

Alpine Physical Therapy
Three Locations
In North, South, and Downtown Missoula
Missoula, MT 59804
Ph: 406-251-2323
Fax: 406-251-2999

Child Orthopedics
Pain Management
Spine - Cervical
Spine - General
Spine - Lumbar
Spine - Thoracic

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I have bursitis in my left elbow that comes and goes. The pointy part of the elbow puffs up like a water balloon. Then it slowly goes away. Is there anyway I can get rid of this problem once and for all?

Swelling or a boggy lump around the point of the elbow is often caused by a condition known as chronic olecranon bursitis. The swelling might increase and decrease but it never goes away fully. Some people have elbow pain or tenderness (especially if there is an infection) but many do not. Elbow range-of-motion may be limited but full motion is often present. Treatment for idiopathic (unknown cause) bursitis may be slightly different than the type caused by another condition. Treating the arthritis, gout, or lupus resulting in elbow bursitis may help resolve the problem. But with idiopathic bursitis, there's no known cause to address. Instead, conservative (nonoperative) care is the first step in treatment. The surgeon may advise patients with this problem how to treat just the symptoms. If it is painful or tender, use cold. If it is actively swelling, apply a compressive wrap. If work or daily activities require pressure on the elbow, then a protective pad can be applied over the tip of the elbow. Steroid injections are not a proven method of treatment. But acupuncture has become increasingly popular for problems like this as evidence for its effectiveness for a variety of problems is published. If nonoperative care doesn't work and the symptoms are interfering with daily function, then the surgeon might consider aspirating (withdrawing fluid from) the joint. Aspiration reduces the swelling and improves motion and function. But the fluid may build up again, so it's often a temporary solution. Surgery is an option when conservative care has been applied diligently and the symptoms (especially swelling) are still present three (or more) months later. Any more specific recommendations for treatment beyond this are not possible. The lack of evidence supporting (or disproving) treatments and combinations of treatments just isn't available.


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