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Diseases & Conditions

Bursitis

What is bursitis?

Bursitis is the inflammation or irritation of the bursa. The bursa is a small sac filled with lubricating fluid, located between tissues such as bone, muscle, tendons, and skin. Bursae help to decrease friction, rubbing and irritation and help your joints move with ease. There are more than 150 bursae in your body. Bursitis occurs when a bursa becomes inflamed; this results in pain and discomfort. The pain may be gradual (building up over time) or may be sudden and severe (especially if calcium deposits are present).

What causes bursitis?

Bursitis is most often caused by repetitive motions (i.e., overuse); or direct, minor impact on the area (e.g., from such activities as repeated bumping or prolonged pressure from kneeling). Less often, bursitis is caused from a sudden, more serious injury.

Other examples of the sources of bursitis include one or more of the following:

  • Play or work activities that cause overuse or injury to the joint areas, for example:
    • Gardening
    • Raking
    • Carpentry
    • Shoveling
    • Painting
    • Scrubbing
    • Sports (tennis, golf, throwing and pitching, etc.)
  • Incorrect posture injury
  • Stress on the soft tissues from an abnormal or poorly positioned joint or bone (such as leg length differences or arthritis in a joint)
  • Other diseases or conditions (rheumatoid arthritis, gout, psoriasis, thyroid disease or an unusual drug reaction) and rarely, from infection

Many times, the cause of bursitis is unknown.

Where does bursitis occur?

Bursae are located throughout the body. However, certain joints are more subject to increased pressure and repetitive use, making bursitis more likely to develop in them. These joints include the shoulders, elbows, knees, and feet. Bursae near the hip joint, particularly those on the outer side of the hip, and those in the buttocks (subjected to pressure from sitting) are also prone to bursitis.

How is bursitis treated?

Treatment goals include reduction in pain and inflammation, as well as preserving mobility and preventing disability and recurrence.

Treatment recommendations may include a combination of rest, splints, heat and cold application. More advanced treatment options include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen
  • Corticosteroid injections given by your health care provider. Injections work quickly to decrease the inflammation and pain.
  • Physical therapy that includes range of motion exercises and splinting. This can be very beneficial.
  • Surgery, when other treatments are not effective.

When should you seek medical advice?

Most cases of bursitis improve without any treatment over a few weeks. See your health care provider if you have any of the following signs or symptoms:

  • You experience pain that interferes with your normal day-to-day activities or have soreness that doesn't improve despite self-care measures.
  • You have recurrence of bursitis.
  • You have a fever or the area affected appears red, swollen or warm.

In addition, see your doctor if you have other medical conditions that may increase your risk of an infection, or if you take medications that increase your risk of infection, such as corticosteroids or immunosuppressants.

How can you prevent bursitis?

Because most cases of bursitis are caused by overuse, the best treatment is prevention. It is important to avoid or modify the activities that cause the problem. Underlying conditions such as leg length differences, improper posture or poor technique in sports or work must be corrected. Some positions, such as kneeling and sitting, significantly increase joint pressure.

Apply these basic rules when performing activities:

  • Take it slow at first and gradually build up your activity level.
  • Use limited force and limited repetitions.
  • Stop if unusual pain occurs.
  • Use cushions and pads to reduce pressure.

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Can't find the health information you’re looking for?

This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 9/28/2009…#10918