Elbow bursitis from paddling

Well I am a little shy of 50 and have paddled 20 years. After my last two canoe day-trips, I have awaken to a badly swollen left elbow. It is very tender to the touch for several days afterward. Even though I am in otherwise great shape and health,… this is obviously bursitis and it even prevents me from doing pushups. Haven’t taken any medication except a little painkiller to help sleep the first couple nights after the paddle trips. I wonder if surgery might be in my near future? Anyone out there have similiar problem? Advice?

I’ve had it, mostly swelling, not much
pain, and it didn’t stop me from paddling. Wikipedia short summary:


A preventative, not treatment

– Last Updated: Jul-15-13 3:15 PM EST –

I paddle, shoot traditional archery gear and have had tendonitis (slightly different issue) problems in my elbow. I have found that daily use of a grip strengthener has prevented reoccurrence of inflammation.

It’s got’ta come off…

– Last Updated: Jul-15-13 1:00 PM EST –

An' de leg while yer at it too, befo' de miseries set in.

Doc FE
Frencher an' Injun War Soyjin
Wooden Leg Whittler

Common Problem

– Last Updated: Jul-15-13 1:49 PM EST –

I never experienced this paddling canoes, but when I started kayaking I was using a heavy paddle with with thick diameter paddle shaft, and I tended to grip it too hard. Problem solved by getting a small diameter paddle, lighter and learning better paddling technique. Since you have an overuse injury you might consider using a double blade paddle too, or switching to a kayak.

If it keeps bothering you go see a doctor, you may have a calcium deposit, torn ligament or tendon or other problem. If it's just over use injury rest and ice while it is swelling and a compression band using healthy doses of ibuprofen or Alleve ( as long as you don't have stomach trouble) will knock down the inflammation. Also there are over the counter arthritis pain cremes that contain salicylate and triethanol amine (usually a generic brand at a drug store) that are good for the discomfort. Don't use the brands that contain menthol, it does not really help the pain.

If the swelling is over the point of the
elbow, then it’s a bursitis problem.

As for Aleve and ibuprofen, they give short term relief but delay healing. When I had a swollen elbow bursa, NSAIDs really were no help at all.

smaller blade, faster cadence.
I got bursitus from a combo of too much canoe poling combined with using my Werner Rec paddle. Woke me up about 1 a.m. with horrendous elbow pain. Took a few weeks off (went bicycling) and went back to ONLY using my AB Edge paddles, which have a smaller blade.

Funny, I screwed my knee up a few weeks back after a particularly aggresive road ride on my bicycle. Been carrying taller gears up the hills, muscles are happy, but the knee said heck with that. Taking a shower after the ride, I noticed my left knee swollen to twice normal size. Back to easier gears…and faster cadence…

This getting old thing sucks at times…

But if it is bursitis, it probably has
nothing to do with cadence or stress, but started with a short, sharp blow to the eminence of the elbow.

There is no way anyone
can read posts over the internet and make a diagnosis or treatment recommendation. See a good doctor.


– Last Updated: Jul-15-13 10:37 PM EST –


And see a Doc. Cortizone is amazing stuff.

So are we placing bets? When I
went in with a swollen bursa sticking back from my elbow, the doctor said it was gout!

Another doctor ignored the clear information I gave him about aggravation of a previous medial collateral ligament, and said I had torn my ACI. He ordered an MRI, and when the results came back, he wouldn’t look me in the eye, but said my ACI was fine, but my medial collateral ligament was partly torn.

I have known some doctors who were good diagnosticians, but in general, their ability to disregard clear evidence is astounding.

Had bursitis in my knee
Doctor prescribed rest and large quantities of Ibuprofen to reduce the inflammation. Once it settled down he suggested getting some regular exercise, so I now do about 10 minutes each day on the bike at the gym - seems to have solved the problem.

I’ve never had elbow problems, but I frequently had pains in my offside shoulder - some light weights seem to have solved that problem. It’s tough to get old, but I’ll bet there are some exercises you can do to focus on your elbow which will strengthen the joint and reduce the stress when paddling.

well, that didn’t happen
with the knee or the elbow. Elbow was “burst bursai”?? per my chiropractor. Easy potential cure to try and see if it helps. It did for me.

The swollen bursa problem at the elbow
has no direct equivalent at the knee. Swelling at the knee typically occurs in the joint space. The elbow condition I had, and which it appears the OP has, is like an exterior blister in the bursa. If not aggravated, the fluid will subside and, usually, the pocket that held the expansion will decrease.

The elbow bursitis condition is so obvious that old-time physician colleagues at the hospital where I worked were diagnosing it, unasked, whenever I rolled up my sleeves.

This has been my experience as well.
I had a large swelling of the bursa around my left elbow (pain too) and it eventually went away. My wife was grossed out by it which gave me a good chuckle or two. I had the same thing on the lower front of my right shoulder coupled with impingement issues and this problem eventually resolved itself, but I did find a TENS unit very helpful. Now I have it on the left shoulder albeit worse and I’m confident it will go away as well, but if it doesn’t soon I may have to let the doc jab me. This one is bugging me quite a bit. I’m too young for this stuff.

oh for goodness sakes
He’s right. Doctors are more informed. Your anecdotal experience doesn’t disprove that.

Do you have a reference for that?
I’d like to see a published study (in a medical journal) that says ibuprofen delays healing of inflammatory overuse injuries.

I know what helps for tennis elbow
or tendonitis. A simple fix is to buy a stretch band at a drug store that is designed to fit around your arm above the tendon. The band takes the stress off the tendon at the joint where it is hurting. Quite effective. Kayaking doesn’t aggravate my elbow like canoeing does so you could also try switching paddling styles.

I like slammy little creeks. I paddled “piney” here in wv for the first time on Fri. I was worthless for two days afterwards. I could barely walk. Knees were really tight but I was not the least bit sorry I did it. The thrill and excitement outweighed the temporary physical set backs. I admit I’m struggling to find a balance between the fun and the hurt that paddling can impose. Arthritis pain rub and Tylenol travel with me to the take out now. I’m trying to strike a balance. I have a tendency to overdo it but that can be a good thing.

Had same thing
I have kayaked since the 70’s. Go to a gym, take yoga etc.

I over did it one time and got tendentious in the elbow. Couldn’t do one push up (pain). No pain when I didn’t use it or paddle gently. It took 8 months for it to go away. It’s always the “trip” or marathon of some type. As we get older we are just more vulnerable to these things because we’re really not in as good shape as we think we are.

Go easy on it, ice it if it hurts and be really patient. Forgot the doctor. They’ll collect $100 to tell you what everyone on this site has. If it’s keeping you up at night, that’s different and a cortisone shot might help.

Well thanks for the vast experience
Thanks to everyone for a load of info here on p.net. I am 100% sure it is Bursitis. I did a very challenging paddle yesterday and iced it afterwards. I will see if the swelling is reduced. BTW this has occured only after doing double-bladed paddling in my canoe in power-paddling situations going UP rivers and on a big lake. I think my next trip I will do ONLY single-blade paddle and see if it re-occurs.