The Management and Treatment for Student’s Elbow or ‘Olecranon Bursitis’

What is student’s elbow?

Student’s elbow is the inflammation of a sac in the elbow joint (olecranon bursa). The body contains sacs filled with fluid called (Synovial bursae) where bone or soft tissue are close to the skin. For example, these are found in the elbows, shoulders, knees and heels. The sacs function as pillows to protect these structures from continuous rubbing.

What causes the inflammation?

The bursa in the elbow can get inflamed for various reasons. For instance, falling, rubbing the elbow against hard surfaces during study or work, or even arthritis or infection can increase the risk of developing student’s elbow.

How do I know that I have a student’s elbow?

Symptoms of an inflamed bursa may include:

  • a visibly swollen bursa at the elbow joint
  • reduced ability to move the joint
  • pain
  • redness
  • increase in temperature on the site of injury.

What treatment can I get?

The most common treatments for student’s elbow are:

  1. NSAIDS (ask your doctor or pharmacist whether these are suitable for you)
  2. In case of an infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics
  3. Avoid leaning on your elbow. If your work requires sitting behind the computer then consider buying a soft pad to rest your elbow on. This will help reduce repetitive friction and pressure on the bursa.
  4. Avoid repetitive activities during exercise and in your daily life.
  5. Apply ice to the area at least 3 times per day for the duration of 15-20 minutes. However, always ensure that you do not apply ice directly to the skin as this may cause skin burn.  
  6. Wrap your elbow with a compression bandage to reduce swelling.

If the above did not reduce the swelling, then your doctor might decide to inject the bursa with a corticosteroid injection or remove some of the fluid (aspiration). In very rare cases, a surgical intervention may be required to remove the bursa completely.

Rand Al-Najim, Physiotherapist

Prohealth365 Physiotherapy & Nutrition Bray