What is bursitis?


Bursitis: Overview

A bursa is a small sac of fluid that helps the tissues around a joint slide over one another easily. Injury or overuse of a joint can cause pain, redness, and inflammation in the bursa (bursitis). Bursitis usually gets better if you avoid the activity that caused it. You can help prevent bursitis from coming back by doing stretching and strengthening exercises. You may also need to change the way you do some activities.


Bursitis is inflammation of a bursa. A bursa is a small sac of fluid that cushions and lubricates an area where tissues—including bone, tendon, ligament, muscle, or skin—rub against one another. Bursae are located throughout the body, in and on joints and other places that are at risk of rubbing or pressure.

Bursitis can be caused by prolonged or repeated pressure on a bursa or by activities that require repeated twisting or rapid joint movement. It can also be caused by trauma or by infection or systemic diseases such as arthritis. Symptoms of bursitis may include:

  • Pain, especially with motion or pressure on the involved bursa.
  • Swelling caused by increased fluid within the bursa.
  • Redness and warmth.

Bursitis can often be treated at home by resting, applying ice or cold packs to the affected area, and avoiding the activities that irritate the area or cause pain. If the area is warm and red, an infection may also be present. This requires medical evaluation.

Traumatic bursitis is bleeding in a bursa caused by a direct blow to the bursa.

Septic bursitis is an infection of a bursa, which sometimes results from traumatic bursitis. Septic bursitis requires medical treatment. This may include surgery and/or a hospital stay for intravenous (I.V.) antibiotic therapy.

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. It may also occur near the Achilles tendon or in the foot.

How is bursitis treated?

Your doctor may suggest physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around your joints. Extra fluid may also be removed from the bursa. If the fluid gets infected, you may need antibiotics. Your doctor may also give you a shot of medicine to reduce swelling. Some people need surgery to drain or remove the bursa.

How can you prevent bursitis?

You may be able to prevent bursitis from happening or coming back.

  • Continue home treatment with rest, ice, pain relievers, and gentle exercises.
  • When you're ready to try the activity that caused the pain, start slowly and do it for short periods or at a slower speed.
  • Change the way you do activities with repeated movements. For example:
    • If using a certain tool has caused bursitis, start switching hands or change the grip size of your tool.
    • If you sit for long periods, get up and walk around every hour.
    • If a certain sport is causing bursitis, consider taking lessons to learn proper techniques.
    • If certain activities at work are causing bursitis, talk to your human resources department about other ways of doing your job, equipment changes, or other job assignments.
  • Protect your joints from pressure. Cushion knees or elbows on hard surfaces, and wear shoes that fit you well and have good support.

How is bursitis diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask about your past health and recent activities and examine 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 and test it for infection. Or you may need X-rays, an MRI, or an ultrasound.

How can you care for your child who has bursitis?

  • Put ice or a cold pack on the area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when your child is awake) or until the swelling goes down. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your child's skin.
  • After 3 days of using ice, you may use heat on the area. You can use a hot water bottle or a warm, moist towel.
  • Have your child rest the painful area. Teach your child to stop any activities that cause pain. Switch to activities that do not stress the area.
  • Be safe with medicines. Give pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it as prescribed.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask the doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • To prevent stiffness, teach your child to gently move the joint as much as possible without pain every day. As the pain gets better, have your child keep doing range-of-motion exercises. Ask the doctor for exercises that will make the muscles around the joint stronger. Help your child do these as directed.
  • Your child can slowly return to the activity that caused the pain. But your child should do it with less effort until it causes no pain or swelling. Teach your child to warm up before and stretch after the activity.

What is 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. Doing the same movement over and over or putting continued pressure on a joint can cause bursitis.

What causes bursitis?

Bursitis is commonly caused by:

  • Overuse and repeated movements. These can include daily activities such as using tools, gardening, cooking, cleaning, and typing at a keyboard.
  • Long periods of pressure on an area. For example, carpet layers, roofers, or gardeners who work on their knees all day can develop bursitis over the kneecap.
  • Aging, which can cause the bursa to break down over time.
  • Sudden injury, such as a blow to the elbow.

Bursitis can also be caused by other problems, such as arthritis or infection (septic bursitis).

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