What causes a bump on your elbow?
A bump on your elbow could indicate any number of conditions. We list 18 possible causes.
1. Bacterial skin infection
After an abrasion, bacteria can enter your skin and cause an infection. It can look like a red, swollen pimple, sometimes with pus or other drainage.
To treat a bump on your elbow caused by a bacterial infection, you can use topical antibiotics. Other infections — like staph — require prescription antibiotics. Your doctor might also drain any fluid that has collected in your elbow.
2. Basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is a slow-growing skin cancer. It appears often as a pink-, white- or skin-colored bump. Basal cell carcinoma can appear anywhere on your skin, including your elbow.
Typically, these are surgically removed. An alternative treatment might be recommended based on a number of factors including:
- tumor size
- your medical history
3. Bone injury
A fracture or dislocation of the bones in your elbow — humerus, radius, or ulna — can produce a lump. A lump like this typically appears immediately after the injury and is accompanied by pain and difficulty in moving your elbow.
4. Dermatitis herpetiformis
Dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) is an extremely itchy skin disease that’s characterized by clusters of small blisters and bumps. It’s caused by sensitivity or intolerance to gluten, a protein found in wheat and grains.
The symptoms of DH, including bumps on your elbow, should go away when you remove gluten from your diet. However, healing may take months. Your doctor might prescribe dapsone (Aczone) to suppress your skin response and improve symptoms.
Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a condition with symptoms that can include:
There’s no cure for eczema but there are treatments — such as medicated creams — that can soothe the itching and stop new outbreaks.
6. Ganglion cyst
Ganglion cysts are benign soft tissue lumps. They’re usually found in your wrist, but in rare occasions can also appear in your elbow.
7. Golfer’s elbow
Golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylitis) is an overuse injury to the tendons of your forearm that attach on the inside of your elbow. Golfer’s elbow is a result of repetitive motion and doesn’t affect only those who play golf.
Treating golfer’s elbow usually takes six months to one year. Treatment includes:
- strengthening the affected area
- over-the-counter pain relievers
If this treatment isn’t effective, your doctor might recommend surgery.
Gout — a relative of rheumatoid arthritis — occurs because of an accumulation of uric acid in your joints. Gout affects your feet most frequently but can also result in painful lumps on your elbow in rare cases.
Gout is most often treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Over-the-counter NSAIDs include:
- ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB)
- naproxen sodium (Aleve)
Prescription NSAIDs include:
People who get gout multiple times per year are often prescribed medication to block uric acid production or to improve uric acid removal.
A lipoma is a benign fatty tissue growth. Lipomas can grow on your elbow and increase to a size that can affect movement.
Usually a lipoma doesn’t require treatment. However, if the bump on your elbow is growing or painful, your doctor might suggest surgery or liposuction to remove it.
10. Olecranon bursitis
A bursa — a small sac filled with fluid — serves as a cushion to prevent friction between the bone and tissue in your elbow. If injured or infected, it can swell and form a lump.
Olecranon bursitis is also known as:
- baker’s elbow
- elbow bump
- liquid elbow
- Popeye elbow
- student’s elbow
If the bursa isn’t infected, your doctor will probably recommend the following treatment:
- avoiding activities that bother your elbow
- applying a tight wrap to your elbow
- taking anti-inflammatory medication
Other treatments include aspiration, in which your doctor removes the fluid from the bursa with a needle and injects the bursa with steroids.
If you have an infection, you might receive a prescription for antibiotics. If the infection can’t be eliminated or if the fluid keeps returning at volume, your doctor might recommend surgical removal of the bursa.
Elbow osteoarthritis is a condition that occurs when the cartilage surface of your elbow is worn out or is damaged. It can cause a hard lump on your elbow.
Early treatment for osteoarthritis of the elbow is commonly pain medication and physical therapy. Corticosteroid injections are sometimes used to address the symptoms. When nonsurgical treatments have run their course, surgery to repair or replace the joint is often the next recommended action.
Psoriasis — an autoimmune skin disease — is characterized by red scaly patches. These patches often appear on your elbow.
Treatment of psoriasis typically includes:
- topical creams such as corticosteroids and anthralin
- light therapy such as UVB phototherapy and excimer laser
- medications such as methotrexate and cyclosporine
13. Rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis — a degenerative disease caused when your immune system attacks healthy joints — can cause nodules on your affected joints, including elbows.
Rheumatoid arthritis is typically treated with a combination of anti-inflammatory and antirheumatic drugs. You should also rest and immobilize your elbow. Surgery may be an option as a last resort.
A highly contagious skin disease caused by an infestation of the mite Sarcoptes scabiei, scabies presents as an itchy rash of red bumps and blisters. Elbows are a very common scabies location.
There are no approved over-the-counter medications for scabies, but your doctor can prescribe a scabicide drug, such as a permethrin lotion.
15. Sebaceous cyst
A sebaceous cyst forms from a clog in a sebaceous gland — a gland in your skin that produces sebum to lubricate skin and hair. This forms a round, noncancerous lump under your skin.
In most cases, doctors recommend leaving the cyst alone. However, cysts can cause problems such as inhibiting normal elbow movement, infection, and unattractive appearance. If this is the case, removal surgery is an option.
16. Surface injury
Often, when your elbow receives a sharp blow, a hematoma (blood clot) will form. Unlike a typical bruise, a hematoma could cause significant swelling.
If a blow causes a bump on your elbow, you should:
- rest and elevate your arm
- use a compression bandage and ice therapy to limit swelling
- take OTC NSAIDs to reduce pain
- put your arm in a sling to limit elbow movement
The blood in the hematoma will be slowly absorbed back into your body, causing the swelling and pain to go away.
17. Tennis elbow
Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) is an overuse injury to the tendons of your forearm muscles on the outside of your elbow. This injury comes from repetitive motion, so tennis elbow affects athletes and nonathletes alike.
To treat tennis elbow, your doctor will likely recommend a combination of OTC pain medication, rest, and ice therapy for a six-month period. Based on the results, they might suggest physical therapy or surgery.
Over-the-counter wart treatment is available. These treatments contain salicylic acid that slowly dissolves the wart. Other treatments include:
- cryotherapy (freezing)
- laser surgery
Many causes, from injury to infection, could cause a bump on your elbow. You should visit your doctor for a complete diagnosis. In many cases, such as lipoma, you won’t likely need medical treatment. Your doctor could, however, identify an infection, malignancy, or condition that warrants specific treatment.