Bursitis is inflammation of the bursae, which are small pouches of fluid in the joints that keep bones, muscles and other structures from rubbing during movement. The bursae helps prevent wear and tear.
Often resulting from overuse, bursitis can be painful, but a variety of conservative treatments, including rest and exercises to stretch and strengthen nearby muscles, can provide relief.
Risk Factors for Bursitis
Anyone can get bursitis, but the bursae often become inflamed because of too much friction — as with repetitive use — or due to an injury. People who spend a lot of time at a computer, or those who perform manual labor on construction sites, for example, are at a higher risk for bursitis.
Other risk factors include:
- Infection of the bursae
- Injury to a joint, especially if it alters movement patterns
- Overuse of a joint, such as performing repetitive motions during work or recreation
Symptoms of Bursitis
When the bursae are irritated, fluid collects at the site and causes swelling, redness and/or warmth. The area hurts consistently, but pain can increase when the affected joint moves or someone puts pressure on it.
Diagnosis of Bursitis
Your physician will start the process of diagnosing bursitis by asking about your medical history, including any chronic conditions or allergies you may have, the medications you take, and the nature of your symptoms and what you’ve done to treat them. The physician will conduct a physical exam, taking care to scrutinize your joints for swelling and other signs of bursitis. Other useful diagnostic tests include:
- Blood tests. Rarely, a bacterial infection can cause bursitis. Blood tests can determine whether an infection is present.
- Fluid samples. A sample of fluid from a swollen joint can reveal infection.
- Imaging studies. X-rays can rule out or reveal bone problems that could be causing your symptoms. An MRI or ultrasound can show inflammation of the bursae.
Treatment for Bursitis
Your physician may recommend rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) as an initial treatment for bursitis, and you may receive an antibiotic if an infection is the cause. If the RICE method doesn’t provide pain relief, other treatment options include:
- Corticosteroid injections
- Draining fluid from affected joints
- Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory and pain-reliving medications
- Physical therapy
If other treatments do not work, surgery may be necessary to repair damage in affected joints.