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.
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:
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.
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.
The main risk factors for bursitis include:
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:
Around muscles, bones and particularly joints, you may notice:
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:
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.
Self-care measures at home can often help relieve pain until you’re fully recovered. You can:
Your healthcare provider may recommend advanced treatment options such as:
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:
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.
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.
Most cases of bursitis improve without any treatment over a few weeks. See your healthcare provider if you have any of the following symptoms:
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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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 05/29/2020