Treatment and Prevention of Bursitis

Resting the Inflamed Bursa

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The first steps of bursitis treatment are to keep pressure off of the affected area, and try to limit your activity of that joint. Some individuals benefit from placing an elastic bandage (Ace wrap) or immobilizing brace around the joint until the inflammation subsides. Movement an pressure of the inflamed area will only cause exacerbation and prolongation on symptoms.

People who struggle with persistent or recurrent bursitis are often not allowing the body to heal by resting the affected area.  Like many overuse conditions, bursitis typically responds well to a short period of rest.  However, in some patients, further treatment is necessary.  That said, everyone should start by trying to rest an inflamed bursa before pursuing medications, injections, or other more aggressive treatments.

Apply an Ice Pack

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Icing the area of inflammation is an important initial step in bursitis treatment. The ice will help to control the inflammation and decrease swelling. By minimizing inflammation and swelling, the bursa can return to its usual state and perform its usual function.  Ice is also helpful to reduce pain associated with bursitis.

Take Anti-Inflammatory Medications

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Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) include a long list of possibilities such as Ibuprofen, Motrin, Naprosyn, Celebrex, and many others.  Bursitis treatment can be improved by these medications that will decrease pain and swelling.  Typically patients will try an anti-inflammatory taken regularly for a short course of time to allow the inflammation to subside.

Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting these medications, as there are possible side-effects and some patients should avoid NSAIDs because of other medical conditions.

Consider a Cortisone Shot

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If the symptoms of bursitis are persistent, an injection of cortisone may be considered. Cortisone is a powerful anti-inflammatory medication, but instead of being given by mouth, it is injected directly to the site of inflammation. This can be extremely helpful for situations that are not improved with rest.

There are possible side-effects of cortisone, and as with any invasive treatment, typically this step is only taken after simpler treatments have failed to provide adequate relief.

Strengthening and Physical Therapy

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Proper strengthening technique can help you avoid bursitis by using your muscles in a safe, more efficient manner. For example, patients with shoulder bursitis can learn ways to move the shoulder that will not cause inflammation. 

Care should be taken when your bursitis is actively inflamed as therapeutic activities should not be started until the acute inflammation has subsided.  Your physical therapist can help to alleviate the inflammation before beginning an exercise program that can help to improve joint mechanics.

Take Breaks from Activity

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People know "if it hurts, don't do it."  But seldom to people listen to that voice that is telling them to avoid activities that aggravate their symptoms.  The human body has a tremendous capacity to heal from injury, but it often requires you to rest that body part to allow for healing to take place.  We all know if you pick at a scab it will take longer to heal.  Similarly, if you consistently aggravate an inflamed bursa, it will take longer to recover.  Some simple steps include:

  • Alternate repetitive tasks with breaks.
  • Don't perform one activity continuously for hours at a time.
  • Limit the amount you are going to do at one time, and stick to that.

Cushion Your Joints

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If your work involves an activity such as prolonged kneeling, use protective cushions (Buy from Amazon). Often when there is direct pressure on a bursa, that can cause inflammation an irritation.  While this is most common with kneecap bursitis, and people who have to kneel while working, this is also true of elbows and hips where pressure directly on the bursa can lead to exacerbation of symptoms.


Aaron DL, et al. "Four Common Types of Bursitis: Diagnosis and Management" J Am Acad Orthop Surg June 2011 ; 19:359-367.

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