Bursitis is an inflammation of the bursa, a small fluid-filled sac that cushions and protects your joints. The olecranon, or elbow, bursa is located over your elbow joint between the bone and skin. Bursitis can occur from trauma to your elbow, infection, prolonged periods of pressure or repetitive activities. Your elbow may become swollen, painful, red or difficult to move. Exercises for elbow bursitis may be prescribed by your doctor to speed recovery or as a part of a rehabilitation program after surgery.
Exercises for elbow bursitis are aimed at stretching and strengthening the muscles of your arm. You may begin doing these exercises once you no longer feel pain at rest. Stretching exercises should include the wrist extensor, wrist flexor, bicep, triceps and pronation/supination stretch. Hold each stretch for 10 seconds and repeat six times. To do the wrist extensor stretch, straighten the injured arm and raise it up in front of your body. Use your opposite hand to pull the hand on your injured arm down so that your fingers are pointing toward the ground. You should feel a stretch on top of your forearm. The wrist flexor stretch is performed the same way, except the hand on your injured arm is pulled up so that your fingers are pointed towards the ceiling. This stretch will be felt on the underside of your forearm.
Strengthening exercises should include wrist extensions and bicep curls. For these exercises you will need a light dumbbell weighing about 2 to 4 lbs. To do wrist extensions, sit down at a table. Place your injured forearm on the table with your palm facing the ground. Allow your hand to hang over the edge of the table. Slowly raise the weight up with your wrist and then back down to the starting position. Repeat 10 times. You may progress to heavier weights if you are pain-free.
Recovery time for bursitis varies from person to person. For some, symptoms resolve within 10 days. Others may have symptoms that last longer than two weeks. The length of recovery time is generally determined by the amount of time that passes before treatment is initiated. The longer you wait to start treatment, the longer your recovery time will be. Chronic cases may also be more difficult to treat.
You can go back to regular activities once your symptoms have resolved, you have regained strength and you have full range of motion of the elbow. If you experience any pain when you return to activity, you should decrease or cease that activity and apply ice.
To prevent elbow bursitis, you should avoid the causative activity if possible. If you play a sport, wear elbow pads to protect the elbow from falls or direct hits. Also, take regular breaks during activity to prevent overuse.
Bursitis that is caused by an infection must be treated by a doctor immediately, as the infection could potentially spread to other areas of the body. Symptoms of an infection include redness, warmth, tenderness and pus.
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Elbow (Olecranon) Bursitis
- Therapeutic Exercise for Musculoskeletal Injuries; Peggy Houglum, Ph.D.