Elbow pads reduce pressure on the olecranon bursa.
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A bursa is a flat, fluid-filled sac that provides cushioning between bones and tendons in a joint. Bursitis -- inflammation of the bursa sac -- causes excess fluid to build up in the sac. The olecranon bursa -- located at the end of the olecranon bone at the tip of the elbow -- is susceptible to bursitis. Elbow pads reduce pressure on this bursa.
The olecranon bursa is not typically detectable by looking at the elbow. However, it can be felt by lightly pressing through the skin at the tip of the elbow. The bursa provides padding between the bone and the skin, allowing the skin to move freely over the bone. This bursa is particularly susceptible to irritation because it sits just below the surface of the skin.
Olecranon bursitis is caused by multiple factors. Direct trauma to the tip of the elbow or repeatedly leaning on it can lead to bursitis. Systemic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout cause inflammation in joints throughout the body and can result in elbow bursitis. This condition can develop in patients who spend significant amounts of time with sustained pressure on the elbow, such as during dialysis treatment. Occasionally olecranon bursitis develops without a known cause.
Symptoms & Diagnosis
Elbow bursitis is typically easy to recognize -- a golf ball-sized sac of fluid develops at the tip of the elbow. This swelling can accumulate gradually or very quickly. Elbow bursitis is not usually painful. Calcium deposits may form in the bursa if treatment is delayed or as a result of chronic irritation. Radiographs are sometimes used to confirm a diagnosis of olecranon bursitis, demonstrating soft-tissue swelling and detection of any calcium deposits. According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, up to 20 percent of the time, olecranon bursitis is caused by infection. Symptoms of infection include pain, redness and warmth on the tip of the elbow and occasionally a fever. Seek medical attention immediately if you experience these symptoms.
Elbow pads cushion elbows irritated by bursitis. This is particularly helpful for people who often lean on their elbows during the day. Elbow pads also reduce swelling by applying gentle compression around the elbow joint. A variety of elbow pads are available, but they typically have certain characteristics in common. They are often made of neoprene or cotton sock-like material with a foam or gel pad in the middle. Elbow pads typically cover the mid-forearm to the middle of the upper arm. Some have Velcro straps to help keep the pad in place. The pad is positioned directly over the tip of the elbow and can be worn all day and while sleeping, as long as they are not too tight. Numbness or tingling in the fingers can indicate an improper fit. These pads can be bought at many drugstores, or you can have them ordered by a health-care professional.
Doctors sometimes use needle aspiration to drain fluid from an inflamed bursa sac, particularly if it needs to be tested for infection. If present, antibiotics are prescribed to treat infection. Cortisone injections are sometimes administered to decrease inflammation in the elbow. Chronic olecranon bursitis may require surgical removal of the fluid sac.