Efficacy of empiric antibiotic management of septic olecranon bursitis without bursal aspiration in emergency department patients

Acad Emerg Med. 2022 Jan;29(1):6-14. doi: 10.1111/acem.14406. Epub 2021 Nov 9.


Objectives: Many guidelines for septic olecranon bursitis recommend aspiration of the bursa prior to initiation of antimicrobial therapy despite the absence of robust clinical data to support this practice and known risk of aspiration complications. Our objective was to describe outcomes associated with empiric antibiotic therapy without bursal aspiration among emergency department (ED) patients with suspected septic olecranon bursitis.

Methods: We conducted a retrospective observational cohort study of patients presenting to an academic ED from January 1, 2011, to December 31, 2018, with olecranon bursitis. The health record was reviewed to assess patient characteristics and outcomes within 6 months of the ED visit. Olecranon bursitis was considered "suspected septic" if the patient was treated with antibiotics. The primary outcome of interest was complicated versus uncomplicated bursitis resolution. Uncomplicated resolution was defined as bursitis resolution without subsequent bursal aspiration, surgery, or hospitalization.

Results: During the study period, 264 ED patients were evaluated for 266 cases of olecranon bursitis. The median age was 57 years and 85% were men. Four (1.5%) patients had bursal aspiration during their ED visit, 39 (14.7%) were admitted to the hospital, 76 (28.6%) were dismissed without antibiotic therapy, and 147 (55.3%) were dismissed with empiric antibiotic therapy for suspected septic olecranon bursitis. Among these 147 patients, 134 had follow-up available including 118 (88.1%, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 81.1%-92.8%) with an uncomplicated resolution, eight (6.0%, 95% CI = 2.8%-11.8%) who underwent subsequent bursal aspiration, and nine (6.7%, 95% CI = 3.3%-12.7%) who were subsequently admitted for inpatient antibiotics.

Conclusions: Eighty-eight percent of ED patients with suspected septic olecranon bursitis treated with empiric antibiotics without aspiration had resolution without need for subsequent bursal aspiration, hospitalization, or surgery. Our findings suggest that empiric antibiotics without bursal aspiration may be a reasonable initial approach to ED management of select patients with suspected septic olecranon bursitis.

Keywords: aspiration; emergency department; management; olecranon bursitis; septic bursitis.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bursitis* / drug therapy
  • Bursitis* / etiology
  • Bursitis* / surgery
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Olecranon Process* / surgery
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents