What is bursitis?
Bursitis is the painful swelling of a small, fluid-filled sac called a bursa. These sacs cushion areas where bone would otherwise rub on muscle, tendons or skin. By padding these areas, bursae (plural for bursa) decrease friction, rubbing and inflammation. Although you have bursae throughout your body, bursitis most often occurs around the joints.
Bursitis happens when a bursa becomes irritated by overuse or excess pressure. The pain from an inflamed bursa may be sudden or build up over time.
Where does bursitis occur?
There are more than 150 bursae located in your body. You’re most likely to develop bursitis in joints you use over and over in the same way or in places you put a lot of pressure such as:
- Shoulders (subacromial bursitis).
- Elbows (olecranon bursitis, sometimes called miner’s or barfly’s elbow).
- Knees (prepatellar bursitis or housemaid’s knee).
- Feet (name varies depending on location, commonly in the big toe, heel or ball of the foot).
- Hips (iliopectineal or trochanteric bursitis).
- Buttocks (ischial bursitis or weaver’s bottom).
What’s the difference between arthritis and bursitis?
Arthritis and bursitis both affect the joints. But arthritis usually results from normal wear and tear on the cartilage, the smooth lining at the ends of bones. The damage is permanent.
In most cases, bursitis is short-term irritation. It doesn’t create long-lasting damage unless you continue to stress the area.
What’s the difference between tendinitis and bursitis?
Overusing one part of your body – like a baseball pitcher’s arm – can lead to tendinitis or bursitis. Tendinitis is irritation of the tendon, a cord-like tissue that secures muscles to bones. Bursitis is inflammation of the bursa.
You may have both conditions at the same time or one or the other. Your healthcare provider can tell which one you have by the location of your pain or by viewing imaging tests.
Who gets bursitis?
The main risk factors for bursitis include:
Symptoms and Causes
What causes bursitis?
Repetitive motions, such as a pitcher throwing a baseball over and over, commonly cause bursitis. Also, spending time in positions that put pressure on part of your body, such as kneeling, can cause a flare-up. Occasionally, a sudden injury or infection can cause bursitis.
Activities that can lead to bursitis include:
- Gardening and raking.
- Poor posture or a poorly positioned joint or bone (due to different leg lengths, bone spurs, or arthritis in a joint).
- Sports like tennis, golf and baseball.
What are the symptoms of bursitis?
Around muscles, bones and particularly joints, you may notice:
- Pain, especially during movement.
- Limited range of motion.
- Redness, warmth, fever and chills, if you have an infection.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is bursitis diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask you questions about the pain and do a physical exam. The results may be enough for a diagnosis. If you have another bursitis flare-up or signs of infection, your provider may recommend:
Management and Treatment
What is the best treatment for bursitis?
Rest is the primary treatment for bursitis. Avoid activity to prevent further injury and give the area time to heal. Especially stop doing the repetitive activity that irritated the bursa.
What can I do at home for pain relief?
Self-care measures at home can often help relieve pain until you’re fully recovered. You can:
- Elevate the injured area.
- Ice the area if sudden injury (not repetitive motion) caused the pain.
- Apply heat to ongoing pain.
- Use a splint, sling or brace to keep the injured area from moving.
- Take over-the-counter medications to relieve pain and swelling, such as ibuprofen or naproxen.
What other treatment options are available?
Your healthcare provider may recommend advanced treatment options such as:
- Antibiotics if you have an infection.
- Physical therapy to increase range of motion.
- Occupational therapy to learn how to move in ways that don’t stress the area.
- Injection of a corticosteroid medication to quickly decrease inflammation and pain.
- Surgery to repair the bursa, if other treatments don’t work after six months to a year.
How can you prevent bursitis?
Because most cases of bursitis are from overuse, the best treatment is prevention. It’s important to avoid or change activities that cause the problem. To prevent bursitis:
- Learn proper posture or technique for sports or work activities.
- Avoid sitting or kneeling too long. These positions put a lot of pressure on joints.
- Maintain a healthy weight to reduce pressure on joints.
- Use cushions and pads when you kneel or put weight on your elbows.
- Ease into new exercises or activities to avoid injury.
- Take breaks if you’re doing a repetitive task.
Outlook / Prognosis
Can you get bursitis again?
You can get bursitis more than once in the same area. When you have repeated bursitis episodes, it’s considered a chronic (long-lasting) condition. Bursitis may come and go. Repeated flare-ups may damage the bursa and reduce your mobility in that joint.
Is bursitis curable?
Bursitis is usually short-lived, lasting a few hours to a few days. If you don’t rest, it can make your recovery longer. When you have chronic bursitis, painful episodes last several days to weeks. Follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations to prevent recurring episodes.
When should I seek medical advice?
Most cases of bursitis improve without any treatment over a few weeks. See your healthcare provider if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Pain that interferes with your day-to-day activities.
- Soreness that doesn’t improve despite self-care measures.
- Bursitis that comes back (recurs).
- Redness, swelling or warmth in the injured area.
For most people, bursitis is preventable. The first step is figuring out what movements caused the irritation. Then you can avoid those movements or find workarounds, like cushions or devices that can ease joint pressure. Take the necessary steps at home and get medical care, if needed, so you can regain pain-free use of your joint
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