What is Bursitis?

Bursitis is a painful condition affecting the small sacs of fluid (bursae) that cushion and lubricate areas where tendons, muscles, skin, ligaments, or bones rub against each other.

The most common areas for bursitis are in the shoulder, elbow, hip, and other locations where continuous pressure is applied through repeated movement in everyday life. People who use the same joint with frequent repetitive motion in their jobs, sports or other daily activities, have a higher chance of developing bursitis.

What causes Bursitis?

The most common causes of bursitis are repetitive motions that, over time, irritate the bursae around the joint. These can include daily activities such as using tools, gardening, cooking, cleaning, or typing on a keyboard.

Another common cause of bursitis is long periods of pressure on a specific area. For example, extensive kneeling or sitting on hard surfaces for tasks like laying carpet or scrubbing floors.

Other risk factors include sudden injuries to the joints and age, as aging causes the bursae to break down over time.

What are the symptoms?

If you have bursitis, the affected joint may:

  • Feel tender, achy or stiff
  • Swell up and make the skin around it red and warm to the touch
  • Hurt more when you move or press on it

Symptoms of bursitis are similar to those of tendinopathy, as both occur in the tissues and in and around the joints.

It is important to consult your doctor if you have disabling joint pain or pain for more than two weeks, excessive swelling, bruising or rash around the affected area, or run a fever.

How is Bursitis diagnosed?

Your doctor will check for bursitis by asking questions about your medical history, specifically systemic diseases and conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and diabetes, which are common risk factors of bursitis.

It is important to let your doctor know if you have recently experienced a fall or any other injuries prior to feeling joint pain.

During the physical exam, your doctor will press on various spots around the sore area to determine whether a specific bursa is causing your pain. If further testing is needed, you may undergo an X-ray, ultrasound or MRI to exclude other causes of your discomfort. Your doctor may also perform lab tests to analyze the fluid from the inflamed bursa to pinpoint the cause of your joint pain.

How is Bursitis treated?

Treatment typically involves resting to prevent further damage and to allow time for the bursa to heal. Home treatment includes resting the joint, applying ice and taking pain medication. Gentle exercises and stretching can help prevent stiffness in the joint. In most cases, bursitis pain dissipates within a few weeks with proper rest and treatment, but recurrences are common. Your doctor may prescribe physical therapy to strengthen the muscles in the affected area, reduce pain caused by bursitis, and prevent recurrence.

In severe cases, your doctor may use a needle to remove extra fluid from the bursa, or have you wear a pressure bandage on the area. Some patients receive a shot of medicine to reduce the swelling.

Sometimes the fluid in the bursa gets infected, in which case you may need antibiotics. Areas like the knee and elbow, where the bursae lie just below the skin, are more susceptible to puncture injuries that can lead to infection of the bursae (septic bursitis).

How can you prevent Bursitis?

While not all types of bursitis can be prevented, you can reduce your risk of developing bursitis or prevent recurrence by:

  • Using kneeling pads during activities that require you to put excessive pressure on your knees
  • Taking frequent breaks when performing repetitive tasks
  • Warming up or stretching before strenuous activities
  • Maintaining a healthy weight, as being overweight places more stress on your joints
  • Applying ice as soon as you notice tenderness or pain in the joint

Other Helpful Resources

Web MD
Mayo Clinic
Medline Plus