An opponent is bodying you up against the boards, you elbow back to get away. Another opponent comes and hits the tip of your elbow. And then another, and another, until… ouch! It’s towards the end of the season and you got hit in the elbow and actually feel the hit this time.
You start to notice pain with extending your elbow while passing and shooting and your elbow swells at the end of games and practice. And now, elbowing your opponents is actually painful to do. Why?
You may have developed olecranon bursitis. Olecranon bursitis can occur with direct trauma, and in hockey, the elbow is a frequent area of contact. Olecranon bursitis occurs when there is tissue damage and inflammation occurring at the olecranon bursa, a small fluid filled sac at the tip of the elbow. The bursa’s purpose is to prevent friction between layers of tissue. Thick and scarred bursal tissue, which may actually feel like a bone chip, can be a source of recurrent inflammation. The most common symptoms include pain and swelling in the elbow which increases when either leaning on elbow or with straightening and bending the elbow. In the early stages, the pain may decrease after warming up with activity, although as the condition progresses, the pain may increase during sport or activity.
The most important initial stage of recovery is resting from activity or sport that causes an increase in pain and focus on stretching and strengthening the tissues around the elbow in a pain free manner, with progression to sports as pain decreases. If continued swelling and pain, some doctors may prescribe anti-inflammatories or corticosteroid injections. The best prevention method, either prior to being diagnosed with olecranon bursitis, or after fully recovered for it, is wearing elbow pads that fit well and have an opening for the elbow, soft padding, and a plastic outer shell.
By: John Gallucci Jr., MS, ATC, PT, DPT
President & CEO, JAG Physical Therapy