Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Pain Management Health Center

Font Size
A
A
A

Bursitis

What Is Bursitis?

Bursitis is the inflammation or irritation of the bursa. The bursa is a sac filled with lubricating fluid, located between tissues such as bone, muscle, tendons, and skin, that decreases rubbing, friction, and irritation.

What Causes Bursitis?

Bursitis is most often caused by repetitive, minor impact on the area, or from a sudden, more serious injury. Age also plays a role. As tendons age they are able to tolerate stress less, are less elastic, and are easier to tear.

Overuse or injury to the joint at work or play can also increase a person's risk of bursitis. Examples of high-risk activities include gardening, raking, carpentry, shoveling, painting, scrubbing, tennis, golf, skiing, throwing, and pitching. Incorrect posture at work or home and poor stretching or conditioning before exercise can also lead to bursitis.

Shoulder

An abnormal or poorly placed bone or joint (such as length differences in your legs or arthritis in a joint) can put added stress on a bursa sac, causing bursitis. Stress or inflammation from other conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, psoriatic arthritis, thyroid disorders, or unusual medication reactions may also increase a person's risk. In addition, an infection can occasionally lead to inflammation of a bursa.

Who Usually Gets Bursitis?

Bursitis is more common in adults, especially in those over 40 years of age.

What Parts of the Body Does Bursitis Affect?

  • Elbow
  • Shoulder
  • Hip
  • Knee
  • Achilles tendon

What Are the Symptoms of Bursitis?

The most common symptom of bursitis is pain. The pain may build up gradually or be sudden and severe, especially if calcium deposits are present. Severe loss of motion in the shoulder -- called "adhesive capsulitis" or frozen shoulder -- can also result from the immobility and pain associated with shoulder bursitis.

How Can I Prevent Bursitis?

If you are planning to start exercising, you will be less likely to get bursitis if you gradually build up  force and  repetitions. Stop what you are doing if unusual pain occurs.

How Is Bursitis Treated?

Bursitis can be treated in a number of ways, including:

  • Avoiding activities that aggravate the problem
  • Resting the injured area
  • Icing the area the day of the injury
  • Taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines

If the condition does not improve in a week, see your doctor.

Your doctor can also prescribe drugs to reduce the inflammation. Corticosteroids, also known simply as "steroids," are often used because they work quickly to decrease the inflammation and pain. Steroids  can be injected directly at the site of injury.  Injections are often, but not always, effective and can be repeated . However, multiple injections in a several month period are usually avoided due to potential side effects from the injections and the possibility of masking problems that need to be treated differently.

Physical therapy is another treatment option that is often used. This includes range-of-motion exercises and splinting (thumb, forearm, or bands).

Surgery, although rarely needed, may be an option when bursitis does not respond to the other treatment options.

Warning

Consult your doctor if you have:

  • Fever (over 102 Fahrenheit) -- infection is a possibility
  • Swelling, redness, and warmth
  • General illness or multiple sites of pain
  • Inability to move the affected area

These could be signs of another problem that needs more immediate attention.

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on October 01, 2012

Today on WebMD

pain in brain and nerves
Top causes and how to find relief.
knee exercise
8 exercises for less knee pain.
 
acupuncture needles in woman's back
How it helps arthritis, migraines, and dental pain.
chronic pain
Get personalized tips to reduce discomfort.
 
foot conditions inherited
Video
lumbar spine
Slideshow
 
Woman opening window
Slideshow
Knee exercises
Slideshow
 
Woman shopping for vegetables
Slideshow
Sore feet with high heel shoes
Slideshow
 
acupuncture needles in woman's back
Slideshow
Hand on back
Slideshow