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What can I Expect from Olecranon Bursitis Surgery?

By Misty Wiser
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Olecranon bursitis surgery is performed when the bursa in the tip of the elbow becomes enlarged, causing pain and stiffness when the elbow joint is moved. The bursa is a small fluid-filled sack located between soft tissues and bone. Injury or infection may cause the development of inflammation that thickens the bursa as it increases in size. Surgical treatment of olecranon bursitis, also called popeye’s elbow or students elbow, is used to relieve pain, reduce stiffness, and restore the elbow joint’s range of motion.

The setting of an olecranon bursitis procedure varies depending on the condition of the bursa. Patients who have an injured or inflamed bursa in the elbow but no infection may have the surgery performed in an outpatient procedure. If the bursa has become infected, the surgeon may decide that an inpatient operation will minimize the risk of bacteria spreading in the body after the surgery.

Before olecranon bursitis surgery, an intravenous (IV) line may be started to administer anesthesia for the operation. Some operations are done with a regional block to numb the area. The surgeon will make a small incision on the tip of the elbow to expose the enlarged bursa. It is freed from the surrounding tissue and carefully removed from the elbow. The skin is then sutured closed over the wound.

Numbness from the anesthesia may last as long as eight hours after this procedure. The entire arm will be splinted to allow time for the tissue to heal and a new bursa to grow. A splint may need to be worn for as long as three weeks after the surgery.

Mild to severe pain is common following olecranon bursitis surgery. Painkillers will be prescribed for the first few days after the procedure. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) will then be suggested for any lingering pain and inflammation. Using ice packs after surgery may be advised to reduce pain and swelling. Any repetitive tasks involving the elbow joint or leaning on the elbow should be avoided, or the newly grown bursa could develop painful inflammation.

Some people report weakness or stiffness in the muscles around the elbow joint after the surgery. Rehabilitation therapy may be advised to restore full range of motion following olecranon bursitis surgery. Beginning one to three weeks after the operation, a physical therapist will recommend simple exercise routines designed to allow the elbow joint to bend and straighten safely.

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Discussion Comments
By anon994841 — On Mar 11, 2016

I have a grapefruit sized bursa sac on my elbow. For ten years my doctors have ignored it save to assure it wasn't gout related. At what point is surgery recommended?

By anon963026 — On Jul 27, 2014

I had surgery on Friday and did not need to be splinted.

By anon961464 — On Jul 17, 2014

I also had a severe infection in my bursa. I had surgery in March and I'm still experiencing pretty severe pain when doing some physical activities. Doctor told me no physical activity for about 8-10 weeks, and I followed accordingly. Is it normal to still be in pain?

By anon346219 — On Aug 26, 2013

It's day five of post surgery and I still have the plastic splint cast on and I'm going in three days to get the staples out. I do not want this cast on again. Did anyone just have this on for a week? Has anyone have it just wrapped the second week?

I had no pain or infection. Just this cast is driving me crazy.

By ricwil39 — On Mar 25, 2013

I had surgery a year ago and I am still experiencing pain in my elbow when I push my arm out. I know that I am not as young as I use to be, but at 47, am I wrong for thinking this is too long? This pain is a different pain than what I was experiencing prior to surgery.

By turquoise — On Mar 20, 2013

Has anyone experienced fluid retention at the elbow post-surgery? I seem to have this, it's been ten days since my surgery. Is this normal?

By ysmina — On Mar 19, 2013

@fify-- Unfortunately, my experience wasn't so pleasant. I had a severely infected bursa and the infection was actually traveling up my arm. My surgery was in-patient and it took the docs longer than usual to clean it up.

My recovery took a while too and I was on serious pain relievers for some time. I realize I'm an exception though, most people have it much easier.

By fify — On Mar 18, 2013

I had an outpatient elbow bursitis surgery. I was actually so frustrated about my huge, swollen and painful elbow, that the surgery felt like nothing. Plus, anesthesia and pain killers take care of any discomfort.

I didn't mind the splint either, I think the hardest part for me was the rehabilitation. I had a lot of stiffness post surgery so it took me several months to be able to move it freely.

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