Shoulder and Elbow Bursitis: How Are They Treated?

Bursitis pain, tenderness, and swelling can flare in your shoulder or elbow. Is there anything you can do to treat your symptoms?

Short-Term Bursitis Treatment

You’ll probably try to treat the pain on your own at first. Bursitis comes from inflammation, so you need to get it under control. You can:

  • Avoid activities that seem to cause your pain or make it worse. Don’t reach or stretch your shoulder more than feels comfortable.
  • Slip on an elbow pad or shoulder splint. These padded supports are made to cushion your sore joint.
  • Try over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or naproxen sodium to ease short-term pain and swelling.
  • Use an ice pack or bag of frozen veggies on the area for up to 20 minutes at a time a few times a day.

Chronic Bursitis Treatment

If your symptoms don’t get better with at-home treatments, see your doctor. She’ll check to see if your problem comes from an infection. If so, prescription antibiotics should clear it up. They’ll also ease the pain and swelling.

For bursitis that’s severe, long-lasting, or comes back often, she may try one of these more aggressive treatments:

Aspiration: The doctor will drain extra fluid from the bursa sac inside your elbow joint. The area could be sore for a few days.

Steroid shot: Your doctor can inject steroids into the bursa to ease inflammation. The shot works faster and is stronger than taking the medication by mouth. Your pain and swelling should go down in a few days. Some doctors do this after they aspirate the bursa.

Surgery for Bursitis

You can have it if other treatments don’t work. Your doctor might suggest:

Elbow surgery: If your elbow bursa is infected and antibiotics don’t help, your doctor can remove the sac. You may also get more antibiotics after surgery. You’ll probably spend the night in the hospital. Your elbow bursa may grow back later.

If your elbow bursa isn’t infected but doesn’t get better with other treatments, your doctor can take it out through outpatient, arthroscopic surgery. That means you won’t have to stay in the hospital overnight.

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You’ll wear a splint afterward to protect your arm after either type of surgery. Your doctor will suggest stretches for you to do as you recover. In a few weeks, your skin should heal and you’ll be able to move your elbow. You may still need to wear an elbow pad for a few months to prevent injury.

Shoulder surgery: The doctor can remove your inflamed shoulder bursa with a type of surgery that only requires small cuts in your skin. She’ll call it minimally invasive or arthroscopic, which is based on "arthroscope," the name of the tool she’ll use. She may also take out bone spurs or extra bits of bone.

You’ll wear a shoulder sling after surgery to hold your joint in place. Once it starts to heal, the doctor will give you exercises to do to stretch, strengthen, and use your shoulder and arm again. You should be pain-free in 2 to 4 months.

Can You Prevent Bursitis?

Maybe. Follow these steps:

  • Avoid motions that put pressure on your sore joint. Don’t lean on the top of a desk or table.
  • Don’t carry heavy packages or loads that strain your shoulders. Use a cart, wagon, or dolly to move heavy items.
  • Be careful when you lift anything heavy. Don’t risk damage to your elbows or shoulders. Ask for help.
  • Work with a physical therapist to learn safe ways to use your joints for normal activities. He can also show you exercises that keep your joints strong and flexible.
  • Repeated movements can cause sore joints. Take breaks and rest your elbows or shoulders. Change workouts or sports to avoid repeat movements.
  • Warm up your joints and muscles before any activity.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on May 26, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic: “Bursitis.”

Cedars-Sinai: “Bursitis of the Shoulder.”

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: “Elbow (Olecranon) Bursitis.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Shoulder Bursitis.”

Mayo Clinic: “Bursitis: Shoulder and Home Remedies,” “Bursitis: Prevention,” “Bursitis:Treatment and Drugs.”

American Society for Surgery of the Hand: “Olecranon Bursitis,” “Shoulder Impingement/Rotator Cuff Tendinitis.”

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