Treatments for Fluid on the Elbow

Fluid on the elbow is known as elbow bursitis or olecranon bursitis. This condition is the result of fluid accumulating in the bursa, which is a saclike structure located at the point behind the elbow. This sac allows smooth movement in the elbow, making it easier to pick up, throw and hold objects. When the sac becomes inflamed, it may be necessary to seek treatment for the elbow bursitis.


Because fluid accumulation in the elbow bursa is responsible for the inflammation and pain of bursitis, it may become necessary to drain the fluid. Dr. Jacob D. Rozbruch, an orthopedic surgeon from New York, describes the drainage procedure as the insertion of a needle to drain fluid from the bursa. If no signs of infection are found during the procedure, cortisone is given to control the inflammation and ease the pain of this condition.


PDR Health indicates that the R.I.C.E. method of injury treatment can be used to relieve the pain and inflammation of olecranon bursitis. This acronym stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. Rest the elbow whenever possible to reduce swelling and avoid the progression of bursitis. Put an ice pack on your elbow for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, three to four times per day. This ice pack should be covered with a towel or pad to prevent injury to the skin. Compression may be used to prevent swelling, but should be used carefully to prevent cutoff of the oxygen supply to the fingers. Elevate your arm above the level of your heart by propping it up on a pillow or pile of blankets.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is used to treat the pain of elbow bursitis. Exercises performed during physical therapy strengthen the elbow and make it possible to have a wider range of motion. Physical therapists can also use ultrasound to improve blood flow to the area of fluid accumulation. This provides deep heat that can ease inflammation. Ultrasound can also be used to activate cortisone cream that has been applied to areas of pain and inflammation caused by bursitis.

Anti-inflammatory Drugs

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be used to control the pain and inflammation of the bursa. These drugs can be purchased without a prescription but should not be used without consulting a medical professional. NSAIDs increase the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding and may also be dangerous for people who have reduced kidney function. When using NSAIDs to treat bursitis, follow all of your doctor's instructions carefully and read all package instructions to avoid adverse side effects and overdose. Examples of NSAIDs include ibuprofen, naproxen and ketoprofen.

Cortisone Injections

Cortisone injections are used to treat the inflammation of bursitis and provide long-term relief of pain caused by the condition. According to the Rothman Institute, the cortisone suppresses the body's inflammatory response, which leads to reduced pain. While these injections are effective at reducing inflammation, they are not without risks. Nerve damage, bone death, joint infection, weakened tendons, bone thinning, skin thinning and whitening of the skin around the site of the injection are possible risks of cortisone injections.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
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