Health Q&A: swollen elbow

Dr David Roche / 06 July 2016

A reader asks Saga Magazine’s GP Dr Roche about a soft swelling on his elbow.

Q: I banged my elbow three weeks ago. It seemed to settle but now I have a soft swelling about the size of a hen’s egg over the point of my elbow which appeared suddenly two days ago. What is it and do I need to do anything about it?

A: This is ‘olecranon bursitis’, the olecranon being the anatomical name for the point of your elbow. Over the point of the elbow you have a structure called a bursa, they are present around many of the mobile joints such as the hip and shoulder and serve to allow the structures of the joint to move freely. 

They contain a small amount of fluid and their response to injury is to produce a lot of it, sometimes painlessly and sometimes becoming very tender. The swelling typically occurs after an interval and usually lasts a few months. The vast majority settle without any intervention so they are best left alone. Very persistent ones can be drained or surgically removed.

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