Aspiration of the Olecranon Bursa

Aspiration of the Olecranon Bursa

When patients experience elbow pain, they often think it stems from torn ligaments or tendons, or damage to the bones. Sometimes the cause of elbow pain stems from the bursa, specifically the olecranon bursa, located under the elbow. Bursa are very important tissue structures that actually are part of the musculoskeletal system. There are over 160 bursae in the body, but many of them are small. The olecranon bursa is a bit larger and acts as a cushion between the skin and the bony tip of the elbow. This helps reduce friction, irritation, and inflammation of the elbow joint. However, it can become inflamed or infected, which is called bursitis. 

Olecranon Bursitis

When a patient’s olecranon bursa is infected or inflamed, it can cause several symptoms including pain, swelling, tenderness, and limited movement of the elbow joint. Normally it is flat, but when inflamed it can swell and create a lump under the skin. Sometimes it may hurt the patient, but there may be no outward physical symptoms visible to the naked eye. Olecranon bursitis can occur due to repetitive motions of the elbow, trauma to the back of the elbow, injury to the elbow, or infection. In most situations, this form of bursitis can be treated with simple care and rest. However, with severe cases, a doctor may recommend aspiration of the olecranon bursa to treat these symptoms. 

What is Aspiration? 

When bursae or other fluid-filled sacs in the body become inflamed, they can grow and swell with fluid, causing pain and other symptoms. This fluid usually will eventually reabsorb into the body, but in some cases, it will not do so, or it may not reabsorb quickly enough to relieve the patient’s pain. Aspiration is a surgical technique that drains fluid out of the body, which helps relieve pressure and swelling. This is a simple procedure that can be done in a physician’s office. The olecranon bursa is filled with synovial fluid, which will eventually replenish. This means that the bursa can be drained with few side effects. 

Aspiration of the Olecranon Bursa Procedure

Doctors perform an aspiration by puncturing the bursa with a needle and draining out some or most of the liquid inside. This process begins with cleaning and sterilizing the skin around the bursa and the needle insertion site. Then, the doctor or nurse will numb the area using an anesthetic or a numbing spray. Once the area is numb, the doctor will carefully insert the needle of a syringe into the bursa, then pull back the plunger and withdraw some of the extra fluid. Then, the doctor will wrap and bandage the area, which should remain on for a few hours to avoid bleeding or fluid leaking. 

Sometimes the doctor may also inject pain medication into the bursa as well, to help reduce inflammation and give the patient some comfort. Complications are rare, and most patients will not have to return for more aspirations. A doctor may also recommend wearing an elbow brace for a short time to help with recovery. 

Elbow Pain and You

If you have elbow pain or if you may need aspiration of the olecranon bursa, even though it may be a simple procedure, you want to have an experienced and trained professional carry out the treatment. With doctors who care, you have better results and better holistic care. Come see us at Orthopaedic Associates of Riverside, where we care about our patients and ensure that they receive the best treatments available. We can perform aspiration of the olecranon bursa, along with many other procedures. Make your appointment today to start receiving incredible care and treatment for you and your loved ones. 


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