Elbow tendonitis & bursitis 

African American man holding sore elbow

Tendonitis and bursitis can lead to weakness and swelling in the elbow joint. Both bursitis and tendinitis cause pain that usually manageable if treated early.

Tendonitis occurs when the tendons—which attach the arm muscles to the bones in the elbow joint—become irritated or inflamed. You may develop elbow tendonitis from repetitive overuse (such as playing tennis) or a more serious injury. Tenosynovitis is the inflammation of the fluid-filled cover surrounding the tendon leading to pain, swelling and stiffness.

Bursitis is the inflammation or irritation of the bursa, fluid-filled sacs in the tissue around the elbow joint that cushions the muscles, bones and tendons. It’s caused by wear and tear or an infection. 

Elbow tendonitis & bursitis symptoms

Recognizing symptoms early can prevent them from becoming chronic (long-term).

Symptoms of elbow tendonitis and bursitis include:

  • Difficulty moving the elbow

  • Elbow pain

  • Swelling of the joint

  • Tenderness and/or redness

Elbow tendonitis & bursitis diagnosis 

Your doctor may diagnose elbow tendonitis or bursitis using one or more of the following tests:

  • A physical exam that examines the elbow joint for instability, swelling and reduced range of motion.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) —uses a magnet, radio frequencies and computer to produce detailed pictures of organs and structures inside your body, such as the elbow joint.

  • Lab tests—fluid from the elbow is sent for testing to determine the cause of the inflammation, such as an infection. 

  • X-rays— a controlled beam of radiation used to create an image of the inside of the elbow joint.

  • Ultrasonography—an imaging test that uses high-frequency sound waves to create a picture of the inside of the elbow. 

Elbow tendonitis & bursitis treatment 

Depending on the extent of your elbow tendonitis or bursitis, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatments: 

  • Antibiotics—your physician may prescribe an antibiotic for bursitis of the elbow caused by an infection. 

  • Anti-inflammatory and pain medications— medicines you can take for pain relief. 

  • Cold therapy—slows the rate of inflammation and reduces the risk of swelling and tissue damage. 

  • Cortisone injections—helps relieve pain and inflammation in the elbow joint.

  • Physical therapy—treatment that uses methods such as massage, heat treatment and exercise to heal and mange pain.

  • Rest—minimizing activities that cause tendonitis or bursitis in the elbow. 

  • Surgery— in rare cases, surgery may be needed to treat severe injuries that cause tendonitis or to drain an inflamed bursa. 

At The Christ Hospital Health Network, our expert physicians and specialists have the experience and skill to diagnose and treat elbow tendonitis and bursitis, so you can get back to the activities you enjoy. 

Find an elbow specialist near you.