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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.

  • Symptoms

    What are the symptoms of bursitis?

    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, elbow, hip, and knee. Bursitis may also occur near the Achilles tendon or in the foot.

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

    Bursitis of the Shoulder

    Bursitis of the shoulder

    Bursitis of the shoulder is inflammation of the bursa found between the bone at the top of the shoulder (the acromion), the upper arm bone (humerus), and the tendons and muscles.

    A bursa is a fluid-filled sac that cushions and lubricates areas of the body where friction is likely to occur. Examples of such areas include between two bones, between a tendon or ligament and a bone, or between bone and skin.

  • Diagnosis

    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.

  • Treatment

    How is bursitis 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.

    If you have severe bursitis, your doctor may use a needle to remove extra fluid from the bursa. You might wear a pressure bandage on the area. Your doctor may also give you a shot of medicine to reduce swelling. Some people need surgery to drain or remove the bursa.

    Sometimes the fluid in the bursa can get infected. If this happens, you may need antibiotics.

    Bursitis is likely to improve in a few days or weeks if you rest and treat the affected area. But it may return if you don't stretch and strengthen the muscles around the joint and change the way you do some activities.


    Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.