Student's Elbow (Olecranon Bursitis) - Symptoms

What are the symptoms of olecranon bursitis?

You cannot normally feel or see a bursa. If the olecranon bursa is inflamed then it causes a thickness and swelling over the back of the elbow. The bursa may also fill with fluid and it then looks like a small soft ball.

There are two types of olecranon bursitis:

  • Infected (septic)
  • Non-infected (aseptic)

It is not always obvious which type it is, but the symptoms tend to be slightly different. The non-infected type is the most common.

Aseptic bursitis

Most cases are painless, or are only mildly painful. The movement of the elbow joint is not affected. It may hurt to put any pressure on your elbows - for example, if you lean on them at a desk. It may also hurt a little when you bend your elbow. The swelling looks the same colour as the rest of your skin, or slightly pink. It may feel the same temperature as the rest of your skin, or may be slightly warm. The swelling is soft rather than hard when you touch it, and you may be able to feel the fluid moving within it when you press on it.

A bursitis associated with another condition such as arthritis may not be painful itself but you will have other symptoms related to the arthritis, such as joint pains.

Septic bursitis

If the bursa is infected then you will usually develop pain, redness and tenderness behind the elbow. There may also be redness and swelling spreading away from the elbow. You may have a high temperature (fever). There may be a graze or wound on the skin over the swelling, where the germs (bacteria) entered.

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Dr Mary Harding
Peer Reviewer:
Dr John Cox
Document ID:
4604 (v41)
Last Checked:
28 September 2016
Next Review:
28 September 2019

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.