What Is Water On The Elbow? Its Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Water on the elbow is a painful inflammatory condition of the elbow joint. It is caused due to inflammation of the bursa present in the elbow. A bursa is a small thin slippery sac situated in many parts of the body. Majority of bursae are present in and around the joints, small as well as large. Their main function is to act as a cushion between the soft tissues and bones.

In normal circumstances, bursa contains small amount of fluid which helps the overlying skin to smoothly slide over the bone. When there is accumulation of large amount of fluids due to inflammation in the bursa, we call it bursitis.

Water on the elbow is one such form of bursitis that develops in the elbow region.

Olecranon is a small pointed bone that you see on the back side of the elbow. A tiny bursa lies between the olecranon bone and the skin overlying it. In normal circumstances, the olecranon bursa is flat as there is very small amount of fluid present in it. It facilitates different structures in the elbow to glide easily over each other and make the joint movement easy.

Causes Of Water On The Elbow

Elbow bursitis (water on elbow) is known to occur due to several reasons.

  • Trauma: One of the causes of water on elbow is direct injury to the elbow, especially on the olecranon bone. A direct hit causes accumulation of fluids and swelling at the back of the elbow. If the elbow hits hard when you fall or hit the edge of a table, it can develop a simple injury.
  • Repeated injuries: Minor injuries occurring from repeated actions cause swelling and pain.
  • Pressure: Excessive pressure for a prolonged period of time over the elbow tip can increase the chances of swelling and inflammation of olecranon bursa. A simple example is putting excess pressure on your elbow while you are resting on the arms of a chair. Leaning on a hard surface such as a table top can irritate the bursa and produce pain and swelling.
  • Superficial skin infection: An insect bite, skin tears allow the bacteria to enter the olecranon bursa. Bacterial infection in the bursa sac causes swelling, redness and pain in the elbow.
  • Diseases: Rheumatoid arthritis, gout in the elbow joint can irritate the bursa and cause its inflammation.

Water On The Elbow Symptoms

  • As soon as inflammatory changes occur in the bursa, you may find swelling in the elbow region. Excess accumulation of fluids is responsible for the swelling. Large amount of fluids will stretch the thin bursa and pain sets in.
  • Pain becomes worse when you put pressure on the affected elbow joint. Swelling and pain restrict the free movement of the elbow joint. Patient finds difficulty in lifting any object.
  • If bacterial infection sets in, the skin area around the elbow becomes red and warm due to formation of pus. The area is tender to touch and becomes shiny.
  • Often the infected olecranon bursa suddenly opens and pus starts to drain.
  • Fever, headache, lethargy are associated general symptoms of infected olecranon bursitis (water on elbow).

Natural Treatment For Elbow Bursitis

Managing elbow bursitis (water on elbow) is possible with conservative line of treatment in most cases. If swelling is large and all the conservative methods to cure the ailment have failed, surgical approach may be considered by the treating doctor.

  • At home, patient can simply follow the R.I.C.E. method. It is rest, ice fomentation, compression bandage and elevation of the affected elbow joint.
  • Give rest to the affected elbow joint. Patient should avoid lifting and putting pressure on the elbow.
  • Patient should use elbow pads to reduce incidence of further injury.
  • Application of ice is useful to reduce swelling. Patient should do ice fomentation at least two to three times a day for 5 minutes.
  • If pain and swelling is substantial, patient may need anti inflammatory medicines. Antibiotics may be necessary if there is an infection.
  • Invasive procedure for resistant and difficult cases require aspiration of fluids with needle. It is done under total aseptic precaution by a surgeon.
  • When water on elbow occurs repeatedly, surgical removal of olecranon bursa may be considered by the doctor.

One Comment

  1. HD said:

    I had my right side bursitis due to swelling up with water many times. Six months later it fills up again and had it drained but next day it filled up again. I want to know can bursitis grow back? I had bursitis on left side done 10 years ago and no problems on that but having problems with right side only. What can I do for this. Go for surgery again? Just don’t know but can’t keep going to doctor and having a needle put in every time. Can you please help me to recover from this condition?

    May 8, 2017

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