Bursitis - The Basic Facts

What You Should Know About Bursitis

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What Are Bursae?

Bursae (the plural of bursa) are small fluid-filled sacs that serve as cushions that reduce friction between bone and other moving parts such as overlying muscle, tendons, or skin. There are approximately 160 bursae found throughout the body.

What Is Bursitis?

Bursitis is a relatively common condition that develops when there is inflammation of a bursa.

What Can Cause Bursitis?

Overuse of an associated tendon or joint or direct trauma to the bursa are the most common causes of bursitis.

Inflammation of a bursa can also be associated with infection, arthritis, gout, diabetes, and thyroid disease.

Who Can Develop Bursitis?

People whose occupation or leisure activity requires repetitive use of a joint are prone to bursitis and tendonitis. Examples can include construction workers, painters, gardeners, tennis players, golfers, dancers and the like.

Bursitis is more likely to develop in people who are not as fit, live a sedentary lifestyle, or in those who have a pre-existing inflammatory condition. They are more likely to overuse or stress joints when they increase their activity level.

What Are the Symptoms of Bursitis?

Pain and tenderness in the area of the affected bursa and joint are the primary symptoms connected with bursitis. The bursa sac can swell and restrict the normal range of motion of the affected joint too. The shoulder (subacromial bursitis), elbow (olecranon bursitis), wrist, hand, knee (prepatellar and anserine bursitis), hip (trochanteric bursitis), and heel (calcaneal bursitis) are among the most common types of bursitis.

How Is Bursitis Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of bursitis begins with a medical history and physical examination. X-rays do not show problems with soft tissue (such as tendons or bursae) so they are not ordered unless a doctor is ruling out other concerns with bone or joints. MRI is able to detect soft tissue problems but is rarely required for diagnosis.

A doctor can usually diagnose bursitis based on the location of symptoms and what activity provokes pain and discomfort.

How Is Bursitis Treated?

Initial treatment for bursitis is typically conservative and includes rest, ice (when due to an acute injury), compression, elevation, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs). Ultrasound, massage, stretching and strengthening exercises may also be considered. If conservative treatment does not produce satisfactory results, corticosteroid injection into the inflamed bursa would likely be the next step. If the bursitis is infectious, antibiotics would also be part of the treatment plan.


Questions and Answers About Bursitis and Tendinitis. NIAMS. April 2007.

Tendonitis. American College of Rheumatology. August 2009.

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