It hurts to lean on my elbow!

The tip of the elbow is naturally padded so that when you lean on a tabletop or crawl on your elbows, it doesn't hurt. But after prolonged leaning or crawling, pain can set in. This can take many months or even longer. People who lean on their desks all day and plumbers and heating/air technicians are especially at risk for developing pain in the elbow.

The pointy bone at the tip of the elbow is called the Olecranon. A bursa, which is a slippery sac with a small amount of lubricating fluid in it, supplies padding between the bone and the skin. When too much pressure is applied to the area, the bursa fills with extra fluid and becomes larger, inflamed, and sometimes infected. This is what causes the pain. The condition is called Olecranon bursitis.


  • Swelling at the tip of the elbow
  • Pain when leaning on the elbow
  • Pain when bending the elbow
  • Swelling that limits elbow motion
  • Elbow skin becomes red and warm (infection)
  • Pus coming out of an elbow wound (infection)


  • Prolonged leaning on elbows
  • Elbow injury such as a traumatic blow
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Gout
  • Bone spur or loose bone or cartilage fragment at the tip of the elbow
  • Insect bite, scrape, or puncture wound that allows bacteria to enter and infect the bursa

The right treatment for Olecranon bursitis depends on what's causing the bursa to swell. An infection may require the doctor to extract fluid from the bursa to determine what type of antibiotics to prescribe. If the doctor suspects a bone spur or loose fragment is ausing the condition, he or she may order an x-Ray. When prolonged pressure on the elbow has caused the bursa to swell, treatments such as elbow pads, activity modification, and medications can be helpful. Cortisone injections may be an option for pain that persists after other anti-inflammatory medications have failed.

Sometimes conservative treatments don't work. In those cases, your doctor may recommend surgical removal of the bursa. A new bursa will grow in its place after a few months. Loose bodies and bone spurs can also be removed surgically, allowing the bursa to return to normal function.

An orthopedic doctor specializing in elbow and arm problems is well equipped to give the right diagnosis and treatment for Olecranon bursitis. Together you can create a treatment program that works with your needs and the needs of anyone who may be caring for you while your activities are restricted or you're recovering from a procedure.