Olecranon Bursitis in a Military Population: Epidemiology and Evidence for Prolonged Morbidity in Combat Recruits

Mil Med. 2017 Sep;182(9):e1976-e1980. doi: 10.7205/MILMED-D-16-00402.


Introduction: Olecranon bursitis (OB) is a benign but disturbing condition that may adversely affect a military recruit's combat preparedness. This study was designed to assess incidence, risk factors, and associated medical burden of OB in the Israel Defense Forces.

Materials and methods: This is a retrospective study drawing on medical records of all Israel Defense Forces soldiers diagnosed as having OB between 2005 and 2015. OB was classified as septic and noninfectious. Crude incidence rates and duty-specific incidence rates were calculated. Medical burden was defined by the number of physician visits, referrals to orthopedic specialist consultations, duration of symptoms, and duration of pharmaceutical treatment. Demographic and occupational information (age, sex, height, weight, socioeconomic status, country of origin, type of military service, time of presentation to medical services) was used to identify risk factors for septic bursitis and longer duration of symptoms. Statistical analysis was performed in R statistical software. Risk factors were evaluated using the Chi-square test for categorical variables and Pearson correlation coefficients were used for continuous variables. The study was approved by the Israeli Defense Force IRB.

Results: A total of 2,692 soldiers were diagnosed with OB during the study period. The crude annual incidence rate of OB was 29/100,000 person-years (PY). Combat duty had an incidence of 97/100,000 PY, and noncombat duties had an incidence of 12/10,000 PY (p < 0.001). Female incidence (8.4/100,000 PY) was similar to male incidence (11/100,000 PY) in administrative duties (p = 0.54). More cases were diagnosed during summer and autumn than in other seasons (p = 0.016). Septic bursitis constituted 24% of all cases, was more frequent in combat soldiers (32%), and on average presented earlier in service than noninfectious OB (13 vs. 17 weeks since recruitment). The mean duration of symptoms was estimated at 17.58 weeks, with a mean of 1.75 physician visits per soldier. About 19% received a specialist referral. Origin from the former USSR was associated with a higher duration of symptoms (p = 0.012).

Conclusion: Type of military service was the principal risk factor for OB, as indicated by a higher incidence of the disorder among combat compared to noncombat units, possibly the result of field training without protective gear and repetitive trauma to elbows. The greater number of diagnoses of OB during summer and autumn, when training is more intensive, support that explanation. Sex did not affect incidence of OB in administrative units. The medical burden appears to be relatively low, since most of the soldiers had only one physician visit. OB is highly prevalent in military compared to civilian populations. Outdoor training involving crawling is a probable explanation for the much higher rates among combat units and increased number of diagnoses during warm summer and autumn months. Prevention by use of protective gear seems to be the most promising intervention.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Bursitis / epidemiology*
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Israel / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Military Personnel / statistics & numerical data*
  • Morbidity / trends*
  • Olecranon Process / injuries*
  • Olecranon Process / physiopathology
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors