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Student's elbow

Last reviewed dd mmm yyyy. Last edited dd mmm yyyy

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The olecranon bursa is a subcutaneous elbow space which contains a fluid to provide smooth and almost frictionless movement between the skin, the subcutaneous tissue and the olecranon. Due to its superficial location it may become enlarged as a result of pressure or friction (1).
The overall incidence of the disease is unknown. It is more common in males specially between the ages of 30 to 60 years (2).

The risk of acquiring this condition is increased in people:

  • who are subjected to repeated elbow trauma e.g.-labourers such as miners, gardeners, carpet layers, and mechanics (3)
  • with rheumatoid or crystalloid arthritis (e.g. gout) (2)
  • with a history of previous episodes of olecranon bursitis
  • with impaired immunity caused by steroids, diabetes, renal impairment, alcohol abuse (4)

If the bursa becomes painful then this may be due to infection, gout or rheumatoid arthritis. Look for tophi or rheumatoid nodules.


  1. Floemer F et al. MRI characteristics of olecranon bursitis. AJR Am J Roentgenol. 2004;183(1):29-34
  2. Stell IM. Septic and non-septic olecranon bursitis in the accident and emergency department--an approach to management. J Accid Emerg Med. 1996;13(5):351-3
  3. McAfee JH, Smith DL. Olecranon and prepatellar bursitis. Diagnosis and treatment. West J Med. 1988;149(5):607-10
  4. Cardone DA, Tallia AF. Diagnostic and therapeutic injection of the elbow region. Am Fam Physician. 2002;66(11):2097-100

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