When to Seek Medical Care
When to call the doctor
Call your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Pain with movement of arms and legs
- Tenderness over a joint or where a tendon connects
- Redness and increased warmth over a joint
- Pain that wakes you from sleep
- Inability to sleep on affected side
- Inability to carry on normal activities of daily living (such as brushing your teeth or taking a shower)
When to go to the hospital
Certain signs and symptoms may mean that you have an infection and should be seen by a doctor immediately. Seek immediate medical care for any of the following symptoms:
- Joint pain or tenderness that is associated with fever, chills, nausea, or vomiting
- More than 1 joint is involved at the same time or joint pain that migrates from one joint to another
- A history of high-risk behavior (unprotected sexual activity with multiple partners, IV drug use, history of sexually transmitted disease)
Any severe joint pain also needs a visit to your hospital's emergency department.
Exams and Tests
The diagnosis of tendinitis is most often made based on history and a physical examination.
Imaging studies may help confirm the diagnosis. The imaging study of choice is the MRI. An MRI gives a very detailed picture and can identify a tear, rupture, inflammation, or other disease processes. An MRI is not useful in visualizing inflammation of the tendon sheath, tenosynovitis, unless fluid is present within the sheath itself.
Your doctor will check if your bursitis has an inflammatory or an infectious cause. The elbow and knee have a higher risk of having an infectious cause, so fluid will probably be drained from your joint to be checked for bacterial infection.
Conditions that place you at a higher risk for infectious bursitis include:
- Chronic alcoholism
- Manual labor
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Self-Care at Home
Home care for a painful or swollen joint should include elevation and not moving it until your doctor can be contacted. You can also use ice for relief of pain and swelling.
- Most authorities recommend icing 2-3 times a day for 20-30 minutes each time.
- Wrap ice or a bag of frozen vegetables in a towel and place it on the area.
If your shoulder is involved, you should not keep it immobile for more than 24-48 hours because your shoulder may become frozen and have decreased range of motion.