Empirical Treatment of Uncomplicated Septic Olecranon Bursitis Without Aspiration

Published:August 14, 2019DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhsa.2019.06.012


      Although aspiration of septic olecranon bursitis is recommended in the literature, no high-level evidence exists to support this practice. The purpose of this study was to retrospectively compare the results of traditional bursal aspiration (TBA) with empirical management without aspiration (EM). We hypothesized that EM of uncomplicated septic olecranon bursitis results in resolution, with fewer chronic draining sinuses and less progression to bursectomy.


      We performed a retrospective review of all cases of septic olecranon bursitis seen by the orthopedic surgery department at a single tertiary referral center over a 5-year period. Cases were manually reviewed to determine patient demographics, management, and treatment results. The primary outcome was success of nonsurgical management versus requirement for surgical bursectomy.


      Thirty cases of uncomplicated septic olecranon bursitis were identified within the study period. Eleven patients were initially managed with TBA (performed by an emergency or primary care physician prior to orthopedic consultation), resulting in 11 positive cultures. Only 1 of these prompted a change of antibiotic management, and despite this information, 5 patients required a second course of antibiotics for incomplete resolution. Eight of the TBA cases went on to bursectomy. Nineteen patients underwent EM. Sixteen of these cases resolved with a single course of empirical antibiotics, and 3 (16%) cases required a second antibiotic course. One patient had a recurrence of symptoms 2 months after resolution with a single course of empirical antibiotics. This resolved with a second course of oral antibiotics. No patients who underwent EM went on to require bursectomy. The number needed to harm when aspiration was performed was 1.46.


      We found EM of uncomplicated septic olecranon bursitis to be effective. Although 1 recurrence did occur in the EM group, no other complications occurred. Empirical management without aspiration may be considered in cases of uncomplicated septic olecranon bursitis.

      Type of study/level of evidence

      Therapeutic IV.

      Key words

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