The medical terminology for water or fluid on the elbow is bursitis of the elbow. A bursa is a thin, smooth sac situated at the elbow which acts like a cushion in between the bones and the soft tissues. All bursae contain a lubricating liquid and this helps the skin to move easily over the underlying bone.
The elbow bursa is located between the loose skin and the bone, olecranon at the back of the elbow. In normal circumstances, the olecranon bursa is flat. If it gets inflamed, more fluid builds up in the bursa and bursitis develops.
What Causes Water On The Elbow?
- Trauma: Injury to the tip of the elbow results in the production of excess fluid in the bursa.
- Continued pressure: Leaning on your elbow for protracted intervals of time on hard surfaces, such as the tabletop, triggers inflammation of the bursa.
- Occupation: Certain people are more susceptible to bursitis – plumbers and heating and air conditioning technicians who crawl and lean on their elbows.
- Infection: If an injury at the elbow breaks the skin, bacteria may enter the bursa and cause infection.
- Medical conditions: Gout and rheumatoid arthritis are associated with elbow bursitis.
Water On The Elbow Symptoms
The first manifesting symptom is swelling. The skin on the back of the elbow is loose, and consequently, even a tiny amount of swelling is easily perceptible.
As the swelling progresses, the bursa stretches, and causes pain. The pain aggravates with direct pressure on the elbow or when you bend the elbow. The swelling may limit your elbow motion.
If the bursa is infected, the skin covering the elbow becomes warm and red. If neglected, the infection may spread to other parts of the arm or move in to the blood stream.
Treatment Options For Fluid On The Elbow
You need to visit your health care provider and let him examine the elbow thoroughly; he may ask you to carry out a few tests to understand the exact cause and whether there is any infection.
- In case the bursitis is because of an infection, he will advise removing the fluid / water from the bursa with a needle. This will greatly allay your symptoms and also gives your doctor a sample which can be examined and analyzed for the presence of bacteria.
- Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to manage the infection effectively.
In case the bursitis is not due to an infection, it is treated as follows:
- Elbow pads: These help cushion your elbow.
- Activity changes: Steer clear of all activities which put direct pressure on to your swollen elbow.
- Medications: Anti-inflammatory drugs and analgesics relieve your symptoms. In extreme cases, surgery is advocated. If the bursa is infected and does not ameliorate with antibiotics or aspiration, surgical intervention is necessary to excise the entire bursa. Surgery may be done in conjunct with oral or intravenous antibiotics and pain killers.
Typically, the bursa will grow back as a normally functioning one over an interval of several months.
If the swelling and pain fail to respond to these measures after four weeks, your health care provider will suggest aspirating the fluid and injecting a corticosteroid.