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Bursitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment


Bursitis is a common condition that arises when the bursae, fluid-filled sacs that cushion and lubricate joints, become inflamed. These sacs help facilitate smooth movement, reduce friction, and protect bones, tendons, and muscles. Bursitis can occur anywhere in the body, but it most frequently affects joints that are subject to repetitive use or pressure.

Causes of Bursitis

Bursitis can be caused by various factors, including:

  • Overuse: Repetitive motions and excessive strain on a particular joint can irritate the bursa, leading to inflammation. Activities like running, jumping, or lifting heavy objects can put stress on the bursae.
  • Trauma: Direct impact or injury to a joint can cause inflammation of the bursa. This can occur during a fall, sports injury, or other accidents.
  • Infection: Bacteria or viruses can infect the bursa, causing inflammation and pain.
  • Rheumatic diseases: Underlying conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout can trigger bursitis.
  • Certain medical conditions: Diabetes, thyroid disorders, and kidney disease can increase the risk of developing bursitis.

Types of Bursitis

Bursitis can be classified based on the location of the affected bursa:

  • Prepatellar Bursitis (Knee): Also known as “housemaid’s knee,” it occurs when the bursa in front of the kneecap becomes inflamed, causing pain and swelling.
  • Olecranon Bursitis (Elbow): This type affects the bursa at the tip of the elbow, resulting in pain and tenderness when bending or straightening the arm.
  • Trochanteric Bursitis (Hip): It involves inflammation of the bursa located on the outside of the hip, causing pain and stiffness when walking or lying on the affected side.
  • Achilles Bursitis (Ankle): This condition is caused by irritation of the bursa behind the Achilles tendon, leading to pain, swelling, and discomfort when walking or running.
  • Subacromial Bursitis (Shoulder): It affects the bursa between the shoulder blade and the rotator cuff tendons. Symptoms include pain, tenderness, and difficulty moving the arm.

Symptoms of Bursitis

The symptoms of bursitis can vary depending on the location and severity of the inflammation. Common signs include:

  • Pain and tenderness around the affected joint
  • Swelling and redness
  • Stiffness and limited range of motion
  • Warmth to the touch
  • Pain with movement or pressure

Diagnosis of Bursitis

Diagnosis of bursitis typically involves a physical examination and a medical history review. Your doctor may also order imaging tests such as X-rays, ultrasounds, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other underlying conditions.

Treatment of Bursitis

The treatment for bursitis depends on the severity of the condition. Non-surgical treatment options include:

  • Rest: Avoiding activities that aggravate the bursa can help reduce inflammation.
  • Ice: Applying ice packs to the affected area several times a day can help alleviate pain and swelling.
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen can reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Physical therapy: Exercises and stretches prescribed by a physical therapist can help improve range of motion and strengthen the surrounding muscles.
  • Cortisone injections: Injections of cortisone, a potent anti-inflammatory medication, can reduce inflammation and pain. However, repeated injections may weaken the bursa over time.

In cases where conservative treatment does not provide sufficient relief, surgery may be necessary to remove the inflamed bursa. Surgery is usually only considered if the bursitis is severe, persistent, or causing significant pain and disability.

Complications of Bursitis

If left untreated, bursitis can lead to complications such as:

  • Chronic inflammation: Persistent inflammation can damage the bursa and surrounding tissues.
  • Infection: Untreated bursitis can become infected, leading to abscess formation and further complications.
  • Joint damage: Chronic bursitis can eventually damage the underlying joint, causing pain and stiffness.

Prevention of Bursitis

To help prevent bursitis, it is recommended to:

  • Warm up before exercising and stretch afterwards
  • Use proper techniques when lifting heavy objects
  • Avoid repetitive or strenuous activities that put excessive stress on specific joints
  • Wear comfortable and supportive footwear
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Manage underlying medical conditions that can increase the risk of bursitis


Bursitis is a common condition that can cause pain, swelling, and discomfort in various joints. While it can be a nuisance, it is important to seek medical attention promptly to determine the cause and receive appropriate treatment. Early diagnosis and proper management can help reduce inflammation, alleviate pain, and prevent complications, allowing you to resume your activities without pain or limitation.

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