What is Bursitis?

Bursitis occurs when the small sacs of fluid, called bursae, that cushion areas where tendons, bones, and muscles rub against each other swell up painfully, making movement difficult. People who use repetitive physical motions or have particularly rigorous athletic lives are at high risk of contracting bursitis; all that movement and rubbing irritates the bursae over time, causing them to swell.

Bursitis tends to happen in larger joints such as shoulders, hips, and elbows. Bursitis can be especially prevalent in places that perform frequent repetitive motions, like the ankles and knees, which are constantly at work when you walk or run. With proper treatment, bursitis usually goes away after three weeks or so, but recurring flare-ups are common.


Frequent, repetitive motions are the leading cause of bursitis outbreaks because of the strain they put on joints. The most common causes include:

  • Lifting or throwing things repeatedly
  • Leaning on your elbows for a long period of time
  • Kneeling for a long period of time
  • Sitting for a long period of time, especially on hard surfaces
  • Aging, as the bursae deteriorate over time

Physically active lifestyle that put undue strain on the joints lead to a higher risk of developing bursitis. However, sedentary lifestyles can also aggravate the problem; sitting in one spot for a long time can cause bursae to swell in the hips.


Pay attention to the joints when trying to discern if you have bursitis. Swollen bursae will create aches and swelling in major joints like elbows, knees, and shoulders; this is the biggest indication of the presence of bursitis. When addressing a joint that you think might have bursitis, look for the following symptoms:

  • Stiffness and aches
  • Tenderness
  • Swollen bumps
  • Red discoloration
  • Pain when moved or touched

People most likely to have bursitis include those middle-aged and older, those with jobs that require frequent repetitive motions, and those with certain medical conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes.

When to see a doctor: Contact your doctor if you start experiencing fevers, rashes, excessive swelling, debilitating joint pain, or if the pain and redness do not subside after two weeks.


Doctors normally need little more than a physical exam to confirm the presence of bursitis. A doctor will check affected joint areas for redness, swollenness, tenderness, and flexibility to assess the extent of damage. If further testing is deemed necessary, your doctor may suggest imaging testings like X-rays to rule out other conditions, a blood test, or an examination of the fluid in the bursae.


Treatment for bursitis is normally very mild and manageable, valuing nonprescription methods over prescription medication or surgical measures for average cases. Ice, rest, and ibuprofen often yield possible results, but f the bursitis still persists, these methods may help to alleviate symptoms:

  • Medication: Prescribed antibiotics can help reduce joint inflammation.
  • Therapy: Physical therapy exercises can help strengthen the muscles in the affected area and reduce pain.
  • Injections: An injection of corticosteroids will reduce inflammation, provide instant pain relief, and normally only needs to be administered once.
  • Surgery: Swollen bursae sometimes need to be surgically drained, but only rarely will the bursae need to be entirely removed.


Resting affected joints is key when recovering from a bursitis flare-up. Some tips for self-care include:

  • Immobilizing the affected area
  • Icing the affected area
  • Over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen
  • Avoiding putting pressure on the knees or elbows
  • Cushioning the affected joint with a pillow at night