Surgical Information

Aspiration of the Olecranon Bursa

What is aspiration of the olecranon bursa?

Aspiration of the olecranon bursa is a procedure to treat elbow bursitis – inflammation of the thin, slippery sac (called the olecranon bursa) that cushions and lubricates the boney tip of the elbow. Elbow bursitis typically results from injury or overuse, but is also caused by infection. In many cases, a painful lump forms when too much fluid collects under the skin.

Aspiration is a simple procedure performed in the physician’s office to remove the fluid, relieve pain and improve range of motion. The physician inserts a needle into the inflamed bursa and drains the fluid. A sample is analyzed for infection and, if necessary, a corticosteroid is injected directly into the olecranon bursa to treat it. Otherwise, patients take oral antibiotics for a few days afterwards.

Anatomy

The olecranon bursa is a thin sac that lies between the skin and bone at the back of the elbow. It contains a small amount of fluid that acts as a cushion and helps the skin slide smoothly over the elbow joint. A normal olecranon bursa is flat. If it becomes irritated or inflamed, fluid collects under the skin to form an obvious lump.

When is aspiration recommended?

Most cases of elbow bursitis respond well to non-surgical treatment, such as rest, activity modification, over-the-counter pain medications and physical therapy. However, if symptoms persist or worsen, or if infection is suspected, aspiration may be recommended. A corticosteroid may be injected directly into the bursa at the time of aspiration or oral antibiotics prescribed for several days afterwards.

What is the recovery time?

Aspiration of the olecranon bursa is a simple office procedure and most people return to normal activities within a day or two. Return to more strenuous activities such as sports depends on the severity of your symptoms and how quickly they resolve.

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