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Bursitis

Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on August 30, 2021

What Is Bursitis?

Bursitis is inflammation or irritation of a bursa sac. You have these sacs all over your body. They’re filled with fluid that eases rubbing and friction between tissues like bones, muscles, tendons, and skin. Bursitis is common around major joints like your shoulder, elbow, hip, or knee.

What Are Bursitis Causes and Risk Factors?

Bursitis is common in adults, especially after age 40.

It’s usually caused by repeated pressure on an area or by using a joint too much. High-risk activities include gardening, raking, carpentry, shoveling, painting, scrubbing, tennis, golf, skiing, and throwing. You can also get bursitis by sitting or standing the wrong way for a long time at work or home, or by not stretching enough before you exercise. Sudden injury can sometimes cause bursitis.

As you age, your tendons aren’t able to handle stress as well. They’re less elastic and easier to tear.

If there’s a problem with the structure of a bone or joint (such as legs that are different lengths or arthritis in a joint), that can put more stress on a bursa, causing bursitis. Reactions to medications and stress or inflammation from other conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, psoriatic arthritis, or thyroid disorders, may also raise your risk.

Shoulder

An infection, especially with Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, can sometimes cause bursitis.

What Are the Types of Bursitis?

Bursitis might affect your:

What Are the Symptoms of Bursitis?

Pain is the most common symptom of bursitis. It might build up slowly or be sudden and severe, especially if you have calcium deposits in the area. You’ll probably feel it when you stretch or extend the joint, and you may have limited range of motion even without pain.

Your joint might also be:

  • Stiff
  • Swollen
  • Red

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Fever (over 102 F)
  • Swelling, redness, and warmth in the area
  • General illness or more than one area that hurts
  • Trouble moving the joint
  • Pain that lasts longer than 2 weeks

These could be signs of an infection or another problem that needs medical care right away.

How Do You Prevent Bursitis?

You can’t always prevent bursitis, but some steps can lower your risk.

  • Use cushions or pads when you’re resting a joint on a hard surface, like if you’re kneeling or sitting.
  • If you play sports, mix things up so you don’t make the same motions all the time. Warm up and stretch before you play, and always use proper form.
  • Start slowly and easily when you’re trying a new exercise or sport. As you build strength, you can use more force and do the motion more often.
  • Don’t sit still for a long time.
  • Take breaks often when you’re making the same motions over and over again.
  • Use good posture all day.
  • Hip bursitis can come from having one leg longer than the other. An orthotic shoe insert can help.
  • Keep a healthy body weight.
  • If something hurts, stop doing it and check with your doctor.

How Is Bursitis Diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and do a physical exam to see if the joint is swollen. You might also have tests including:

  • Imaging tests. X-rays can rule out other problems that might be causing pain. MRI and ultrasound give your doctor an image of your joint.
  • Lab tests. Your doctor might use a needle to take a bit of fluid from your bursa and test it for signs of infection.

How Is Bursitis Treated?

Take these steps to treat bursitis:

  • Avoid activities that make it worse.
  • Rest and raise the affected area.
  • Use crutches or a cane if needed.
  • Put a brace, band, or splint on the joint.
  • Ice the area.
  • Take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen or naproxen sodium.

See your doctor if you don’t feel better after a week. They might give you medications like steroids, which work quickly to lower inflammation and pain. Your doctor might prescribe pills to swallow or use a needle to inject them into the irritated area. They might also inject pain medications.

Physical therapy can help you strengthen muscles and give you more range of motion in the joint.

If you have an infected bursa, your doctor might use a needle to take out fluid. You’ll probably need antibiotics.

It’s rare, but you might need surgery if other treatments aren’t helping.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

Arthritis Foundation: “Bursitis.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Bursitis.”

TeensHealth.org: “Bursitis.”

Merck Manual Consumer Version: “Bursitis.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Bursitis.”

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: “Bursitis.”

Mayo Clinic: “Bursitis.”

Jonathan Cluett, MD, orthopedic surgeon, Massachusetts.

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: “Hip Bursitis.”

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Bursitis of the Hip.”

National Health Services: “Treating bursitis.”

University of North Carolina Sports Medicine and Family Medicine: “Trochanteric Bursitis.”

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