Is Bursitis Busting Up the Joint?
Pity the poor bursa. We have about 150 of these simple, fluid-filled sacs. Most of
us have never heard of them until they start hurting.
Known all together as "bursae," they protect and lubricate joints, reducing rubbing
as bones, tendons, muscles, and ligaments do their jobs. Bursae vary in size, but
many (like those in the shoulder) are about the size of a silver dollar.
What is bursitis and what causes it?
Bursae can become swollen and painful, a condition called bursitis. That makes simple
movements of your shoulder, elbow, hip or knee seem like a huge effort.
Overuse and the trauma of direct impact are the most common causes of bursitis.
As you age, you can injure bursae more easily. The sacs become drier over the years.
Also, damage happens from wear and tear in and around your joints over time.
Are bursitis and tendinitis the same?
People often mistake bursitis for tendinitis. In tendinitis, an inflamed tendon (a
fibrous band tying muscle to bone) can cause joint pain.
A softball player might suffer bursitis of the elbow or shoulder from repeated throwing
or in the knees from bending low to the ground to serve as a catcher.
Housework causes bursitis, too. For example, people who kneel to clean, garden, or
work on a roof are at risk for developing bursitis of the knee.
How can you prevent bursitis?
Experts say that prevention is better than treatment. It's important to listen to
your body and not to overdo it when you feel pain or extreme tiredness. If you're
kneeling to garden, for instance, you can help your knees by taking regular breaks
and using a rubber pad as a cushion.
If you're playing a sport, pay close attention to the basic movements and seek quality
coaching. You'll be less likely to use poor mechanics and you'll reduce the chance
You can also help prevent bursitis by stretching regularly.
What is the treatment for bursitis?
Most bursitis goes away without medical attention in 1 to 2 weeks. Many people never
realize that an inflamed bursa caused the pain.
Self-treatment of bursitis includes:
Avoiding the activity that led to pain.
Using ice for the first 48 hours after an activity causes pain. Apply the ice wrapped
in a towel, 15 to 20 minutes, 3 to 4 times a day. After a couple of days, use moist
heat before physical activity and ice after activity if your healthcare provider agrees.
Elevating the injury (when it's possible and not painful) to reduce swelling.
Taking over-the-counter, anti-inflammatory medicines, like ibuprofen, for pain and
swelling. Ask your healthcare provider first.
If your pain is severe, doesn’t go away, or interferes with daily activities, it may
be time to see a healthcare provider to rule out other causes.
A healthcare provider diagnoses bursitis by putting your injured joint through a gentle
range of motion and by pushing lightly on the skin above the painful joint.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe stronger anti-inflammatory medicine or inject
the injured bursa with cortisone to ease swelling and pain. The healthcare provider
also may prescribe gentle exercise at home. This can improve blood flow to the joint
and the bursa and to increase the range of motion.