A few months ago I awoke one morning with a puffy, soft inflammation of my right elbow. It was quite painful and increased when trying to straighten my arm. I immediately knew it was bursitis, but was puzzled as to how it came about.
When younger and engaged in numerous contact sports, I occasionally fell on my elbows. The swelling and inflammation was other than the result of a broken bone, and it went away in a week or so. I didn’t know anything about the anatomy of my elbow, so I didn’t take such falls too seriously.
However, this new swelling caught me by surprise, for I had not hit my elbow against anything! Upon research, I determined that I had unwittingly contributed to my condition by spending long hours, for numerous days, sitting at my computer finishing a project. During that time, my elbows were in constant contact with the hard surface of the arms of my chair. It was this firm contact at the bony tip of my elbow that caused the problem!
In this article I want to tell you what I have learned about bursitis of the elbow — its causes, symptoms, treatment, the elbow’s anatomy, and how I speeded my recovery by using Solomon’s Seal tincture. I am fortunate to have first hand experience with several conditions in which I have had success using Solomon’s Seal, and my elbow bursitis is just one example.
When you rub your elbow firmly, you can feel the hard bones of your forearm. The tip, or point, of the elbow is called the olecranon. What you can’t feel is the olecranon bursa, a slippery sac between the loose skin of the elbow and the bones of your forearm.
What does the olecranon bursa do?
First, understand that a bursa is a sac made of thin, slippery tissue. Bursae occur in the body wherever skin, muscles, or tendons need to slide over bone, especially in the shoulder, hip and knee. Bursae are lubricated with a small amount of fluid (called synovial fluid) inside that helps reduce friction from the sliding parts.
The olecranon bursa is located between the tip, or point, of the elbow (the olecranon) and the overlying skin. This bursa allows the elbow to bend and straighten freely underneath the skin. In short, this bursa acts as a cushion between the skin and the bone. However, if the elbow is hit, or you put constant pressure against the tip of the elbow (as when you lean on a desk or other hard surface), the bursa can become inflamed and irritated, a condition called bursitis. The bursa begins to swell, and may create a lump over the tip of the elbow. Often, elbow bursitis is called Popeye’s Elbow, after the famous cartoon sailorman.
Causes of Elbow Bursitis
Direct Blow to Elbow
In some cases, a direct blow or fall onto the elbow can damage the bursa. This usually causes bleeding into the bursa sac, because the blood vessels in the tissues that make up the bursa are damaged and torn. In the skin this would simply form a bruise, but in a bursa blood may actually fill the bursa sac. This causes the bursa to swell up like a rubber balloon filled with water.
The blood in the bursa is thought to cause an inflammatory reaction. The walls of the bursa may thicken and remain thickened and tender even after the blood has been absorbed by the body. This thickening and swelling of the bursa is referred to as olecranon bursitis.
Contact sports are not without falls that can harm the elbows — ice hockey, racquetball, basketball, any sport requiring diving to the ground. Rollerskating, ice skating, skateboarding and the like can also cause elbow damage. Simply whacking the elbow hard against a wall, or in a fall against a rock when hiking, or as a result of a car or bicycle accident — these can harm the elbow as well.
Olecranon bursitis can also occur over a longer period of time. People who constantly put their elbows on a hard surface as part of their activities or job can repeatedly injure the bursa. This repeated injury can lead to irritation and thickening of the bursa over time. The chronic irritation leads to the same condition in the end: olecranon bursitis.
I have personally learned that I am susceptible to elbow bursitis by resting them on my chair’s uncushioned arms (of which I now have cushioned with foam!).
The olecranon bursa can also become infected. This may occur without any warning, or it may be caused by a small injury and infection of the skin over the bursa that spreads down into the bursa. In this case, instead of blood or inflammatory fluid in the bursa, it becomes filled with pus. The area around the bursa becomes hot, red, and very tender. Although infrequent in occurrence, it is important to get immediate medical attention if you believe this may be the case with you.
Olecranon bursitis causes pain and swelling in the area at the tip of the elbow. It may be very difficult to put the elbow down on a surface due to the tenderness. If the condition has been present for some time, small lumps may be felt underneath the skin over the olecranon. Sometimes these lumps feel as though something is floating around in the olecranon bursa, and they can be very tender. These lumps are usually the thickened folds of bursa tissue that have formed in response to chronic inflammation.
Note: I realize now that after many years of whacking my elbow through sports and recreational activities, I can feel these little “floating” folds of bursa tissue beneath the skin of my elbow.
The bursa sac may swell and fill with fluid at times. This is usually related to your activity level, and more activity usually causes more swelling. Over time the bursa can grow thick, almost like an elbow pad on the olecranon.
Gradual swelling indicates a chronic or long-lasting condition, while sudden swelling may signal a traumatic injury or an infection in the elbow. Motion in the elbow may be limited, especially if there was a traumatic impact to the elbow.
If the bursa becomes infected, the elbow becomes swollen and very tender and warm to the touch around the bursa. You may run a fever and feel chills. An abscess, or area of pus, may form on the elbow. If the infection is not treated quickly, the abscess may even begin to drain, meaning the pus begins to seep out.
Treatment of Elbow Bursitis (including the use of Solomon’s Seal)
Olecranon bursitis that is caused by an injury will usually go away on its own. The body will absorb the blood in the bursa over several weeks, and the bursa should return to normal. Often you are left with a bursa sac that has stretched and is too large for the space it now occupies. The sac may develop wrinkles that over time, will harden.
Medication and Rest
Chronic olecranon bursitis is sometimes a real nuisance. The swelling and tenderness get in the way and causes pain. This can create a hardship both at work and during recreational activities.
Treatment usually starts by trying to control the inflammation. This may include a short period of rest. Medications such as ibuprofen and aspirin may be suggested by your doctor to control the inflammation and swelling. An elbow pad might be useful in making it easier to put the elbow on hard surfaces.
Generally, R.I.C.E. is the first line of treatment for bursitis:
- Rest: Take a break from whatever activity is causing the elbow to swell or become painful.
- Ice: Apply ice packs for short periods of time (15 to 20 minutes, three or four times a day).
- Compression: Wrap an elastic bandage around the elbow to keep swelling down.
- Elevation: Elevate the elbow above the level of your heart.
Medical Treatment via Drainage
If the bursa remains filled with fluid, a needle can be inserted and the fluid drained. During the drainage procedure, if there is no evidence of infection, a small amount of cortisone can be injected into the bursa to control the inflammation. Again, there is a small risk of infection if the bursa is drained with a needle.
Your health practitioner may also prescribe professional rehabilitation to evaluate and treat the problems that are causing your symptoms. Your physical or occupational therapist may suggest the use of heat, ice, and ultrasound to help calm pain and swelling. You may be given tips and strategies to avoid repetitive elbow motion and to do your activities without putting extra pressure on your elbows.
If an infection is found to be causing the olecranon bursitis, the bursa will need to be drained with a needle, perhaps several times over the first few days. You will be placed on antibiotics for several days.
HOW SOLOMON’S SEAL CAN AID IN HEALING
The Use of a Liniment for Short-term Relief of Pain & Discomfort
An herbal liniment (such as our Cortesia Quick Relief Liniment) is a medicinal liquid of herbs in a base or “carrier” of rubbing alcohol, Witch Hazel, or oil that is firmly rubbed into the skin to provide temporary, fast-acting pain relief and increased blood circulation. A liniment can be used alone, however, its effectiveness is increased when part of a 3-Step Healing Strategy using an accompanying topical salve and tincture. Our Cortesia Quick Relief Liniment is formulated in a base of organic double-distilled Witch Hazel and Isopropyl Alcohol (rubbing alcohol) and contains Solomon’s Seal and 8 therapeutic herbs: Comfrey, Calendula, Arnica, St. John’s Wort, Rosemary, Cayenne, Horsetail, and Menthol. It is perfectly suited for providing relief to bursitis, arthritis and joint discomfort (among other uses). For detailed information read our article at www.solomonsseal.net, or the two detailed articles on this Blog.
The Use of a Topical Cream to Reduce Inflammation & Pain
Reducing bursa inflammation and soothing the pain of bursitis can be done topically if a pain reliever has the ability to penetrate the skin barrier and contains anti-inflammatory agents. A topical formula will not only relieve pain or inflammation, but also dilate the blood vessels (if it contains natural menthol). This allows for relief of the bursitis, without causing any stiffening of the tissue.
Our Cortesia Solomon’s Seal Acute & Chronic Injury Salve is a very effective topical salve, especially when used with our Solomon’s Seal Tincture, or any of our Solomon’s Seal formulas. The salve contains Arnica, Calendula, Comfrey, Horsetail, Mullein, St. John’s Wort and Solomon’s Seal root. Unlike most topicals, however, the herbal properties in our salve permeate deeply through the skin layers into the cellular level of affected tissues.
The Use of Solomon’s Seal Tincture
The body has what is called a plastic regeneration response to injuries, that is, the ability of the body to create a healing response that attempts to repair tissues or bursae following injury. The fascinating medical observation about Solomon’s Seal’s effectiveness is that the quality of repair to the injured tissue leaves little or no trace/evidence of scar tissue. Furthermore, Solomon’s Seal is also useful to fight and correct joint inflammation, tumors, as well as the acute and chronic swelling and edema that occur in the surrounding tissues following injury, or in the case of bursitis.
THE 3-STEP METHOD:
COMBINING A LINIMENT, SALVE & TINCTURE FOR DEEP HEALING
When using herbal interventions or products such as a tincture, salve or liniment, we believe that a 3-Step Method is the best way to address many of the types of acute and chronic injuries mentioned above. (Note: This approach should never take the place of other practical strategies such as rest, support or elevation of injury, increasing water intake, adjustment of diet and nutrition, etc.)
Apply Cortesia Quick-Relief Liniment topically several times daily, as needed, in area(s) where pain or discomfort is occurring. Apply morning, afternoon, and evening OR before and after periods of activity and again before bed. This will provide short-term relief so that certain activities are less painful or so that you can get to sleep. It is important to firmly rub the liniment for several minutes to stimulate blood circulation in the effected tissue or joint area. This works very well for arthritic conditions or joint issues to increase flexibility. Of course, use lighter pressure for a sprain, bruise, very sore muscle, or painful area.
Apply Cortesia Acute and Chronic Injury Salve externally to injured area twice daily, morning and evening (apply after the liniment). Wrap or bandage as needed to protect clothing. This is an important long-term method of healing for strains, sprains, aches, symptoms of arthritis, damaged muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, etc. It perfectly compliments the liniment.
Note: After applying a liniment or salve, it is very useful to simply lay your hand(s) lightly over the affected area for a few minutes. This form of “touch healing therapy” is therapeutic (see our article Solomon’s Seal and the Healing Effects of Touch to understand more). You can feel the warm or cooling sensation of your injury; you can also mentally visualize healing currents.
Consider taking Cortesia Solomon’s Seal Tincture internally several times daily. Solomon’s Seal works to harmonize, feed, lubricate, and tighten or loosen (as needed) tendons, ligaments, muscles, attachments, and joints. It is a valuable connective tissue anti-inflammatory, and is known to help moderate the symptoms of osteoarthritis, repetitive use injuries, and connective tissue damage. Depending on your injury or condition, one of our Solomon’s Seal Formulas (described elsewhere on this site) may be appropriate — for example, the #1 Arthritis & Joint Repair, the #2 Bone-Building & Bone Repair, the #3 Cartilage & Tissue Repair, the #4 Pain & Tension Relief, or the #6 All-in-One Deep Healing Formula.
Elbow bursitis and elbow tendonitis are very common elbow conditions. Bursitis most often clears up on its own over time, and with proper self-care. However, you can speed recovery time with Solomon’s Seal, and not feel the need for pain killers or medications that can disrupt the gastrointestinal tracts, as NSAID’s like aspirin and the like can do. The diverse healing qualities of Solomon’s Seal suggests that it is an invaluable addition to your medicine chest.
For more information about the herb, Solomon’s Seal, and our line of Solomon’s Seal tinctures, salve, liniment and tea please visit our website: www.solomonsseal.net.