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Bursitis - Topic Overview

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What is bursitis?

Bursitis is a painful swelling of a small sac of fluid called a bursa. Bursae (plural of bursa) cushion and lubricate areas where tendons, ligaments, skin, muscles, or bones rub against each other. People who repeat the same movement over and over or who put continued pressure on a joint in their jobs, sports, or daily activities have a greater chance of getting bursitis.

What causes bursitis?

Bursitis is commonly caused by:

  • Overuse and repeated movements. These can include daily activities such as using tools, gardening, cooking, cleaning, and typing at a keyboard.
  • Long periods of pressure on an area. For example, carpet layers, roofers, or gardeners who work on their knees all day can develop bursitis over the kneecap.
  • Aging, which can cause the bursa to break down over time.
  • Sudden injury, such as a blow to the elbow.

Bursitis can also be caused by other problems, such as arthritis or infection (septic bursitis).

What are the symptoms?

Bursitis usually causes a dull pain, tenderness, and stiffness near the affected bursa. The bursa may swell and make the skin around it red and warm to the touch.

Bursitis is most common in the shoulder camera.gif, elbow camera.gif, hip camera.gif, and knee camera.gif. Bursitis may also occur near the Achilles tendon camera.gif or in the foot.

Symptoms of bursitis may be like those of tendinopathy. Both occur in the tissues in and around the joints.

Check with your doctor if your pain is severe, if the sore area becomes very hot or red, or if you have a fever.

How is bursitis diagnosed?

Your doctor will check for bursitis by asking questions about your past health and recent activities and by examining the area.

If your symptoms are severe or get worse even after treatment, you may need other tests. Your doctor may drain fluid from the bursa through a needle (aspiration) and test it for infection. Or you may need X-rays, an MRI, or an ultrasound.

How is it treated?

Home treatment is often enough to reduce pain and let the bursa heal. Your doctor may suggest physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around your joints.

  • Rest the affected area. Avoid any activity or direct pressure that may cause pain.
  • Apply ice or cold packs as soon as you notice pain in your muscles or near a joint. Apply ice 10 to 15 minutes at a time, as often as twice an hour, for 3 days (72 hours). You can try heat, or alternating heat and ice, after the first 72 hours.
  • Use pain relievers. Use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, to reduce pain and inflammation. NSAIDs come in pills and also in a cream that you rub over the sore area. Acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) can also help with pain. Don't rely on medicine to relieve pain so that you can keep overusing the joint.
  • Do range-of-motion exercises each day. If your bursitis is in or near a joint, gently move the joint through its full range of motion, even during the time that you are resting the joint area. This will prevent stiffness. As the pain goes away, add other exercises to strengthen the muscles around your joint.
  • Avoid tobacco smoke.Smoking delays wound and tissue healing.
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