I bumped my elbow on a sharp piece of metal at work and ended up with an elbow infection of all things. They call it septic elbow bursitis. I'm on antibiotics but I'd like to get off as soon as possible. How long should I be taking these meds?
Olecranon (elbow) bursitis is the inflammation of the bursa at the tip or point of the elbow. A bursa is a sac made of thin, slippery tissue. Bursae (plural) occur in the body wherever skin, muscles, or tendons need to slide over bone. Bursae are lubricated with a small amount of fluid inside that helps reduce friction from the sliding parts. The olecranon bursa allows the elbow to bend and straighten freely underneath the skin.
This bursa can become irritated and inflamed in a number of ways. Direct impact to the elbow (like you had) can cause bleeding in the bursa. This can cause the bursa to become swollen and tender. The olecranon bursa can also become infected or septic. Even a small injury can leave an opening into the elbow. Bacteria from the skin over the bursa can enter through this portal.
Treatment may depend on what is causing the septic bursitis. The most common approach is the use of antibiotics. A broad spectrum antibiotic is used at first (one that will kill as many different kinds of bacteria as possible). If the fluid in the elbow is aspirated (drawn out), then it can be tested to find out the specific bacteria present. That's when the patient is switched to a antibiotic that will target the identified bacteria. With septic olecranon bursitis, it's usually a staph or strep infection.
Antibiotics and aspiration used together is another common treatment choice. In some cases, the surgeon will put a tube into the bursa and remove fluid while cleansing the area twice a day over a period of three to five days. This type of treatment is called serial aspiration. When the fluid is tested clear and free of infection, then the tube can be taken out and antibiotics discontinued.
In all cases, if the elbow fluid is not aspirated and tested to see if antibiotics are still required, then patients are advised to take the full amount of antibiotics as prescribed. The total time varies depending on the type of antibiotic you are on. In a situation like this with the potential to develop a chronic elbow bursitis, patients are always advised to check with the physician or pharmacist before discontinuing antibiotics.
Joshua M. Abzug, MD, et al. Septic Olecranon Bursitis. In The Journal of Hand Surgery. June 2012. Vol. 37A. No. 6. Pp. 1252-1253.
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