Olecranon bursitis
Bursitis of the elbow / student's elbow

Olecranon bursitis is an inflammation of the bursa located at the rear of the elbow. The bursa is swollen and painful as a result. The condition is also referred to as "student's elbow".

arm olecranon bursitis anatomy

A bursa is a type of impact cushion that covers protruding bone sections. It absorbs pressure and ensures that bones, tendons and skin move across each other smoothly.

Description of condition

The bursa located at the rear of the elbow is called the olecranon bursa. This becomes inflamed (bursitis) and swollen. Fluid accumulates in the bursa, which is clearly visible at the rear of the elbow.

Cause and history

An olecranon bursitis usually occurs as a result of someone bumping their elbow or leaning on it for prolonged periods. However, it may also occur without any obvious cause.

Signs & symptoms

  • Swelling at the rear of the elbow. Initially this swelling is not clearly visible, but at a later stage it can form a significant lump.
  • Leaning or pressing on the bursa is painful and makes the bursitis worse.
  • Complete flexing of the elbow may be painful, because the skin over the bursa is pulled tight.


Usually, the diagnosis is fairly clear when someone has local swelling on the back of the elbow and explains that he or she has bumped the elbow or that they lean on it for long periods. If the symptoms occur after a small wound on the elbow, the swelling is red and there is a fever, then infectious bursitis is likely.

A doctor may use a needle to aspirate the fluid from the bursitis and examine whether or not there is an infection.


The elbow must be rested until the bursitis has disappeared. Pain relief, anti-inflammatories and ice packs can reduce the symptoms.

The swollen bursa can be punctured by a specialist to drain the fluid.


You can check your symptoms using the online physiotherapy check or make an appointment with a physiotherapy practice in your locality.

Knuistingh Neven, A. (2004). NHG-standaard. Bursitis olecrani en bursitis prepatellaris. Farmacotherapeutische richtlijn. Nederlands Huisartsen Genootschap.
Leijnse, M.E. (2011). Bursitis olecrani, studenten elleboog, slijmbeursontsteking elleboog. Patiƫnten informatie folder. Uitgegeven in eigen beheer.
Verhaar, J.A.N. & Linden, A.J. van der (2005). Orthopedie. Houten: Bohn Stafleu van Loghum.
Vliet, TH.P.M. & Streefkerk, J.G. (1991). Kleine kwalen in de huisartsengeneeskunde; theorie en praktijk bij bursitis olecrani. Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 135:19:837-839.

arm olecranon bursitis anatomy

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