Bursitis is a painful inflammation of a bursa, one of the small sacs at the joints that cushion the tendons, muscles and bones. Bursae normally enable fluid movement, but when overtaxed they can inflame and fill with fluid. Once a bursa becomes irritated, gritty and rough, it can create painful friction in the joint. Bursitis usually results either from repetitive stress or sudden injury and presents with swelling, redness and deep, aching pain. The joints most commonly affected by bursitis are the shoulder, elbow, hip and knee.

Risk Factors for Bursitis

Bursitis may result from overuse of a joint during work or play. Aging increases the risk of developing bursitis because as the tendons become less elastic they are more likely to tear. Individuals who work at occupations or engage in activities in which they put repeated pressure on certain joints are potential candidates for the ailment. This includes people who regularly:

  • Plant or rake
  • Shovel
  • Paint houses
  • Do carpentry
  • Scrub floors
  • Lay tiles
  • Play golf or tennis
  • Pitch baseballs

Other risk factors for bursitis include:

  • Medical conditions that causes inflammation, such as arthritis
  • Anatomical abnormalities that put unusual stress on a joint
  • Certain infections
  • Obesity
  • Incorrect posture
  • Inadequate stretching before exercise
  • Reactions to particular medications

Treatment of Bursitis

Usually bursitis responds to simple remedies, although the inflammation may take a week or many weeks to subside. Patients should see their physicians to rule out more serious injuries. They are typically advised to rest the injured region, avoid activities that intensify discomfort, ice the area, and take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. Sometimes stronger oral medications are prescribed to reduce inflammation and sometimes corticosteroid injections are administered. Physical therapy is often recommended to increase range of motion as healing takes place. Only in rare cases is surgery necessary to treat bursitis.

The bursae at the elbow and knee are located more superficially many others, and so are more prone not only to inflammation, as in "housemaid's knee," but also to puncture wounds that can lead to infection. Infection of a bursa is called septic bursitis and must be treated with antibiotics.

Additional Resources