The olecranon (oh-LEH-cruh-nahn) is the pointy bone at the tip of the elbow. The bursa is the thin sac of fluid that lies between this boney tip and the skin. It helps the skin slide over the bone smoothly. Normally, this sac has only a tiny bit of fluid inside of it and lays flat. However, the bursa can become irritated or inflamed and fill with extra fluid (see Figure 1). When this happens, a painful swelling develops at the back of the elbow. This swelling is olecranon bursitis.
Trauma, such as hitting the elbow or falling on the back of the elbow, can lead to this condition. People who lean their elbows against hard surfaces can develop this problem over time. Those with conditions such as gout, rheumatoid arthritis, or kidney failure needing dialysis can be more likely to get this condition. In many cases, the cause is not known.
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