Lump On Elbow

Written By: Chloe Wilson BSc (Hons) Physiotherapy
Reviewed By: SPE Medical Review Board

Lump On Elbow: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment Of Elbow Lumps & Bumps

A lump on the elbow is a common problem.

Lumps and bumps can be quite worrying but most of the time, they are nothing serious.

There are lots of different things that can cause elbow bumps and lumps.

There may be a problem with one of the elbow bones, an abnormal collection of fluid, inflammation from overuse, an injury or even a benign growth.

Whilst it is incredibly rare for a lump on elbow to be cancerous, you should always get any new growths checked out by your doctor to make sure it’s nothing serious.

Here we are going to look at the different causes of a lump on the elbow and how to identify which type you have. We will then go on to look at the best ways to treat them. If you are more bothered by pain than swelling and lumps on the elbow, check out the inner elbow pain and outer elbow pain articles.

What Causes A Lump On Elbow?

A lump on the elbow may be caused by:

  • Excess Fluid: a build-up of fluid can collect and form elbow bumps e.g. olecranon bursitis
  • Bone Damage: an injury to one of the bones can cause a hard lump on elbow e.g. fracture or dislocation
  • Medical Conditions: there are a number of medical conditions that can cause elbow bumps e.g. arthritis, infections and psoriasis
  • Overuse: repetitive activities of the elbow, forearm and wrist can result in swelling and a soft lump on the elbow e.g. tendonitis

Each of these causes of elbow lumps will present slightly differently, and as such, will require different treatment. We will start by looking at the four most common causes of a lump on elbow and then go on to look at some of the more unusual ones too.

1. Olecranon Bursitis

Lump On Elbow: Olecranon Bursitis. Causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

The most common cause of a lump on the elbow at the back of the joint is olecranon bursitis, aka student’s elbow or Popeye elbow.

Olecranon bursitis develops when excess fluid pools in the olecranon bursa, a small sac at the back of the elbow that provides cushioning, causing it to swell.

This usually occurs when there has been repetitive pressure or friction through the back of the elbow, or after a sudden hard blow to the back of the elbow. The elbow tries to protect itself by producing more fluid for increased cushioning, but if it swells up too much, it can start causing pain.

Common symptoms of olecranon bursitis include a defined pocket of swelling behind the elbow, tenderness and occasionally redness and warmth.

Treatment for an olecranon bursitis lump on the elbow initially focuses on reducing the swelling with ice and medication and protecting the area with elbow pads or by avoiding leaning on your elbow. Occasionally the excess fluid may need to be drained.

You can find out loads more about this common cause of a lump on elbow and how to treat it in the Olecranon Bursitis section.

2. Elbow Cysts

Another common cause of bumps on the elbow are elbow cysts. Cysts are small sacs or lumps that may be filled with a variety of substances such as fluid or pus, that can occur anywhere e.g. shoulder cysts. They often look a bit like a blister. Elbow cysts are very common are usually completely harmless.

There are lots of different types of elbow cysts but the two that most commonly cause a lump on the elbow are:

  • Ganglion Cyst Elbow: smooth, round or oval-shaped fluid-filled lump that develops near joints or tendons. A collection of thick, jelly-like fluid forms anything from a pea-sized lump on elbow, to one resembling a squashy orange. A ganglion cyst on the elbow is not usually painful unless it starts to press on one of the nearby structures e.g. a nerve

  • Sebaceous Cyst On Elbow: aka epidermoid cysts, cause a lump on elbow due to a build-up of keratin, a protein found in skin cells. An epidermoid elbow bump may range in size from a few millimetres to several centimetres in diameter. These elbow cysts usually feel firm but slightly compressible.

In most cases, a lump on the elbow from a cyst doesn’t require immediate treatment and your doctor will often recommend a watch and wait course of action. But if the cyst starts causing pain or becomes infected, then it may need to be drained, surgically removed or treated with antibiotics.

3. Elbow Tendonitis

Tennis Elbow Lump: Elbow tendonitis can cause lumps and bumps on the side if the elbow. Find out about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of tendonitis lump on elbow

Tendonitis, aka epicondylitis, can also cause a lump on the elbow.

With elbow tendonitis, repetitive strain through the forearm muscles leads to inflammation of the tendons that connect the muscles to the elbow.

The two most common types of elbow tendonitis that cause a bump on the side of the elbow are:

  • Lateral Epicondylitis: aka Tennis Elbow can cause a bump on the outside of the elbow. Lateral epicondylitis is an overuse injury of the muscles on the back of the forearm that extend and rotate the wrist and control your grip. Repetitive strain through the common extensor tendon causes tearing and inflammation which can result in a tennis elbow lump on the outer side of the elbow. Tennis elbow is the most common type of elbow tendonitis

  • Medial Epicondylitis: aka Golfers Elbow can cause a lump on inside of elbow. Medial epicondylitis affects the tendons on the inner side of the forearm. Repetitive overuse and strain through the forearm flexors which control wrist flexion, rotation and grip causes inflammation and tearing resulting in a lump in the inside of the elbow.

Elbow tendonitis typically affects people who do repetitive activities including racket sports, computer work, throwing sports and manual labour. Typical symptoms include localised aching or burning pain and tenderness that may radiate down the forearm and gets worse with activities such as gripping, shaking hands, twisting activities e.g. opening jars and picking up heavy objects.

You can find out about the different causes of a lump on the elbow from tendonitis including the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment for each in the elbow and forearm tendonitis section.

4. Elbow Trauma

A hard lump on the elbow may be a sign of a fracture or dislocation following an injury

A lump on the elbow that appears suddenly and is associated with some kind of trauma e.g. fall, RTA or sporting tackle may indicate a bone fracture or joint dislocation.

There is typically immediate pain and swelling at the time of injury and it may be difficult to move your elbow.

Elbow fractures and dislocations are often accompanied by an obvious deformity around the elbow and there may be a hard lump if part of the bone has been forced out of place.

If you suspect your elbow lump is due to a fracture or dislocation, seek urgent medical attention.

Other Causes Of Elbow Bumps

Some of the less common causes of lumps on the elbow include:

  • Warts: Small, rough bumps on the elbow may be warts, caused by viruses such as human papilloma virus (HPV). They can vary in size and may be slightly raised or flat, and treatment options include topical medications, cryotherapy, or surgical removal

  • Gout: A lump on the elbow that develops rapidly, particularly at night, which is associated with redness, warmth and intense pain is often a sign of gout elbow

  • Lipoma: An elbow bump may be caused by a lipoma. A lipoma is a noncancerous fatty tumor that develops beneath the skin. Lipomas are usually soft, movable, and painless. No treatment is required unless they start causing problems, usually if they press on nearby structures such as nerves

  • Infection: In rare cases, a lump on the elbow may be due to an infectious condition such as an abscess or cellulitis, which can cause localized swelling, redness and inflammation. Antibiotics are often required

  • Skin Conditions: elbow lumps and rashes may be due to skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis. Check out the arm rash article to find out more

  • Tumor: elbow tumors are extremely uncommon and are usually benign e.g. osteochondroma. It is very rare that elbow lumps are malignant (cancerous), the most common being a synovial sarcoma, chondrosarcoma or Ewing sarcoma. If you have persistent, unexplained elbow pain at rest, a fast growing elbow lump, fever, night sweats or unexplained weight loss you should see your doctor as soon as possible for investigation

Treatment For Elbow Bumps

Treatment for elbow lumps will depend on the underlying cause of the problem but may involve a combination of:

  • Rest: from aggravating activities is really important for overuse injuries such as tendonitis, or with more serious injuries such as an elbow fracture
  • Ice: regularly applying an ice pack to elbow lumps can help to reduce swelling and fluid accumulation
  • Elbow Strap Brace: wearing a tendon strap just below the elbow helps to reduce the force and tension going through the tendons around the elbow which is particularly useful with tendonitis
  • Medication: can be used to help reduce pain and swelling associated with bumps on the elbow
  • Aspiration: where fluid is drained from the elbow lump using a syringe. The fluid may be sent for analysis if an infection is suspected
  • Steroid Injection: injecting a mixture of corticosteroid and local anaesthetic can help to reduce pain and inflammation with elbow bumps
  • Physical Therapy: many cases of lumps on the elbow benefit from a course of physio which may involve massage, electrotherapy, taping and rehab exercises

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Lump On Elbow Summary

There are lots of possible causes of lumps and bumps on the elbow, the most common being bursitis and tendonitis.

A bump on the side of the elbow may be a tennis elbow lump if it’s on the outer side, whereas a lump on the inside of the elbow is usually from medial epicondylitis.

A large bump on the elbow may be from olecranon bursitis, gout, a cyst or an infection.

A bump on the elbow after a fall often indicates a fracture or dislocation.

A red bump on the elbow is usually due to gout or an infection whereas a white bump on the elbow or itchy bumps on the elbow are often due to skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis.

A soft elbow lump is usually a cyst, lipoma or bursitis whereas a hard lump on the elbow usually indicates a bone issue e.g. fracture or callus (bone spur) formation.

A bump on the elbow with no pain usually indicates something harmless like a cyst, lipoma or warts.

You may also be interested in the following articles:

Page Last Updated: March 28th, 2024
Next Review Due: March 28th, 2026

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