Dr Shayan Ahmed

Elbow Lumps: Causes, symptoms and how an ultrasound can help with diagnosis

January 24, 2024, 22:01

An elbow lump is an abnormal bump, swelling, or protrusion on the inner or outer side of the elbow. Lumps can appear on the elbow for a number of reasons, including injury, disease, and skin infection.

Elbow lumps occur deep within the joint or just underneath or on the surface of the skin. They can also range from small to big, harmful to benign, and soft to hard. Some may also get inflamed, making them pulsatile, painful, tender, or itchy. In extreme cases, lumps in the elbow can decrease the range of motion in the forearm and may cause permanent tissue damage around the joint if left untreated.

This article explores the different types of elbow lumps, their possible causes, noticeable symptoms, and potential treatment options. We’ll also discuss the importance of proper diagnosis in elbow lump treatment and how an elbow and forearm ultrasound scan helps detect and diagnose harmful lumps.

Elbow lump causes, types, and treatments

Elbow lumps are generally classified based on their causes. It’s difficult to distinguish lumps in the elbow without considering their roots. Additionally, elbow lumps are sometimes an indication or symptom of an underlying health condition.

Here’s a list of seven types of elbow lumps based on their causes:

Injury-induced elbow lumps

Three bones — the humerus, radius, and ulna — join to form the elbow. A fracture or dislocation of any of these bones can cause a lump to form.

Also, the tendons attaching muscles to the three bones can tear due to traumatic, posture-related, or overuse injuries, leading to the formation of a lump. Such is the case with tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) (1) and golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylitis) (2).

Injury-induced elbow lumps are usually a result of inflammation. As such, they go away as the injury heals. Some of the more stubborn lumps may warrant draining, medication, or other interventions.


Cysts are sac-like cavities of membranous tissue containing fluid, gas, or semisolid material. Most cysts are caused by infections, injuries, or parasites and can form on any part of the body or the skin. On rare occasions, some cysts turn out to be tumours.

Cysts sometimes form on the elbow as noticeable lumps. There are two common types of cysts that cause lumps in the elbow:

  • Sebaceous cysts — caused by trauma or damage to the skin’s sebaceous glands, which produce sebum, an oily substance that protects the skin

  • Ganglion cysts — jell-filled lumps that appear along joints and tendons, usually linked to injury or trauma

Most cysts are harmless and only require medical care if they compromise movement or cause pain in the elbow. If necessary, a cyst can be drained, treated with anti-inflammatory drugs, or surgically removed, depending on its severity.

Elbow bursitis

Bursae are thin, slippery sacs of jell-like fluid tucked between joint bones and soft tissues. They provide cushioning and reduce friction in joints. Your elbow has several bursae (3), including the subtendinous, olecranon, bicipitoradial, and interosseous bursae.

If any of these bursae become inflamed (bursitis) due to injury or overuse, it fills with fluid and swells into a lump. This is most noticeable in the olecranon bursa covering the tip of the elbow.

Mild cases of elbow bursitis are treated with ice and compression. Oral anti-inflammatory drugs also help reduce the swelling. Your doctor may recommend draining the affected bursa if the simpler remedies do not work.


Warts (4) are small, thick, grainy skin growths that usually form on fingers and hands but may also appear on the elbow. They are caused by viral infections, particularly the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Treatment for warts begins with addressing the viral infection. Once that's done, the next step is to destroy the wart. Wart removal may involve salicylic acid patches, cryotherapy, minor surgery, or laser treatment, depending on the wart's resilience.

Lipomas lumps

A lipoma (5) is a doughy, slow-growing fatty lump under the skin. Lipomas are non-cancerous and usually harmless. However, they can affect movement in the elbow and even cause pain if they grow too big.

Treatment for lipoma generally isn't necessary unless the lump becomes bothersome, in which case surgical removal or minor liposuction may be in order.


A lump in your elbow could be a dreaded tumour. Cancer can develop in the elbow or spread there from another body part, forming a clump of cancer cells that appear as a lump.

Synovial sarcoma (6) is one of the most common soft tissue cancers found in the elbow. Other cancers known to affect the elbow include myxofibrosarcoma and pleomorphic sarcoma. These cancers form tumours in joint ligaments, muscles, and tendons. Basal cell carcinoma, a slow-growing skin cancer, can form lumps around the elbow too.

Elbow tumours are treated like regular cancer tumours. Common treatment options include surgical removal, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and immunotherapy.

Disease-caused elbow lumps

Lastly, joint and skin-related diseases can cause lumps on one or both of your elbows. Common culprits of elbow lumps include:

  • Bacterial infections

  • Eczema

  • Gout

  • Arthritis

  • Psoriasis

  • Scabies

  • Cellulitis

  • Dermatitis herpetiformis

  • Neurological disorders

Treating these kinds of elbow lumps means treating the underlying disease rather than the lump itself. Although in some cases, rehabilitative or more targeted therapies are needed to get rid of persistent lumps.

The signs and symptoms of elbow lumps

The obvious sign of an elbow lump is a noticeable swelling or bump on the inner or outer side of the elbow. In addition to that, here are other symptoms you might experience when there’s a lump on your elbow:

  • Pain, tenderness, or throbbing on the lump itself or the area around it

  • Other visual deformities on the elbow

  • Decreased range of motion in the elbow joint or forearm

  • Redness, warmth, or discolouration on the elbow

  • Tingling sensation or numbness in the arm and fingers

  • Clicking or popping sounds when opening/closing your fingers, twisting your wrist, or bending/straightening your elbow

  • Loss of strength in the arm

  • Weak grip

Note that the symptoms will depend on the type of lump, what caused it, and how severe it is. In fact, you might not experience any accompanying symptoms with your lump besides the swelling.

Diagnosing elbow lumps with an ultrasound scan

Lumps and other deformities around the elbow can have many different causes. And as we’ve seen, treatment for an elbow lump largely depends on the cause and type of lump. An elbow and forearm ultrasound scan is a quick, accurate, and non-invasive way to diagnose a lump in order to determine the right treatment plan or if treatment is necessary at all.

An ultrasound scan paints a vivid real-time picture of the various bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles making up your elbow and forearm. The live ultrasound feed can also capture movements in the joint and forearm.

By peering deep beneath the skin, an ultrasound scan can reveal the following abnormalities related to elbow lumps and other issues:

  • Tendonitis (inflamed tendons)

  • Tendinosis (tendon degeneration due to overuse)

  • Bone fractures on the humerus, radius, or ulna

  • Tears in the various ligaments and tendons

  • Olecranon bursitis

  • Physical tissue damage

  • Bone dislocations and misalignments

  • Neurological disorders such as median nerve entrapment syndrome (7), radial tunnel syndrome (8), and cubital tunnel syndrome (9)

  • Tumours, cysts, and lipomas

  • Signs of arthritis

  • Obstructions to the normal range of motion in the elbow and forearm

Get a private elbow and forearm ultrasound scan today

A forearm and elbow ultrasound scan is a simple, painless procedure taking only 20-30 minutes. At Harley Street Ultrasound Group, all scans are performed by friendly specialist doctors eager to address all your concerns. Plus, you get your scan results on the same day, along with tailored advice and recommendations.

You must be curious about what happens during an elbow and forearm ultrasound scan appointment. Well, here’s a breakdown of the procedure:

There's no preparation required on your part. But we do recommend wearing comfortable, loose-fitting tops that will allow you to expose your arm for the scan without undressing. It's also a good idea to leave your jewellery at home.

Once in the scanning room, the ultrasound specialist will ask you to lie or sit on the examination table.

After a brief visual examination and flexing (if necessary and possible) of the affected elbow, the specialist will position the arm on the table and apply a clear water-based gel around the affected area. The gel acts as a lubricant, making it easier to slide the scanning probe over the skin.

When ready, the specialist moves the probe back and forth over the affected area, occasionally stopping to take still images. The images and live feed are projected on a screen. This is the actual scanning process.

Scanning takes mere minutes. The specialist will let you know when it’s done.

Once the scan is complete, the excess gel will be wiped off, and you can put your top back on if you had removed it before the scan.

After that, the specialist will diagnose the elbow lump immediately and generate an official ultrasound scan report. If the results show cause for medical concern, the specialist may recommend appropriate treatments or more tests.

And that's it. An ultrasound is a non-invasive procedure with no drugs, side effects, or aftercare to worry about.

Harley Street Ultrasound Group is a fully registered and certified imaging centre. On top of that, we prioritize your health and peace of mind above all else. Visit our Harley Street clinic for expert ultrasound scans. And don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions — or just to say hello.


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At the HSUG, our specialist team delivers private ultrasound scans designed to give you the insight and peace of mind you need. We are the experts when it comes to ultrasonic diagnosis and treatment, and we have a strong track record of providing reassurance to our patients when they need it most.

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