Olecranon bursitis
Bursitis of the elbow / student's elbow

Olecranon bursitis is an inflammation of the bursa located at the rear of the elbow. The bursa is swollen and painful as a result. The condition is also referred to as 'student's elbow'.

arm olecranon bursitis anatomy

A bursa is a type of bumper cushion that covers protruding bone sections. It absorbs pressure forces or ensures that bones, tendons and skin move over each other smoothly.

Description of the condition

The bursa located at the rear of the elbow is called the 'olecranon bursa'. This becomes inflamed (bursitis) and swollen. Fluid accumulates in the bursa, which is clearly visible at the rear of the elbow.

Cause and origin

An olecranon bursitis usually occurs as a result of someone bumping their elbow or leaning on it for prolonged periods. However, it can also occur without any obvious cause.

Signs & symptoms

  • Swelling at the rear of the elbow. Initially this swelling is not clearly visible, but at a later stage it can form a significant lump.
  • Leaning or pressing on the bursa is painful and makes the bursitis worse.
  • Complete flexing of the elbow can be painful, because the skin over the bursa is pulled tight.


Usually, the diagnosis is fairly clear when someone has local swelling on the back of the elbow and explains that he or she has bumped the elbow or leans on it for a long time. If the complaints arise after a small wound on the elbow, the swelling is red and there is a fever, then infectious bursitis is likely.

A doctor can use a needle to aspirate the fluid from the bursitis and examine whether or not it is an infection.


The elbow must be rested until the bursitis has disappeared. Pain relief, anti-inflammatories and ice packs can reduce the symptoms. The swollen bursa can be pierced by a specialist to drain the fluid.


You can check your symptoms using the online physiotherapy check or make an appointment with a physiotherapy practice in your area.

Knuistingh Neven, A. (2004). NHG-standaard. Bursitis olecrani en bursitis prepatellaris. Farmacotherapeutische richtlijn. Nederlands Huisartsen Genootschap.
Leijnse, M.E. (2011). Bursitis olecrani, studenten elleboog, slijmbeursontsteking elleboog. Patiƫnten informatie folder. Uitgegeven in eigen beheer.
Verhaar, J.A.N. & Linden, A.J. van der (2005). Orthopedie. Houten: Bohn Stafleu van Loghum.
Vliet, TH.P.M. & Streefkerk, J.G. (1991). Kleine kwalen in de huisartsengeneeskunde; theorie en praktijk bij bursitis olecrani. Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 135:19:837-839.

arm olecranon bursitis anatomy

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