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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.