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What is Bursitis?

A bursa is a fluid-filled sac that cushions the bone from other moving parts, such as tendons, muscles, and skin. Bursae (plural of bursa) help your joints work smoothly. They cushion your tendons, bones, and ligaments as they move against each other.

Bursitis is when these small bursae become irritated or inflamed. This is, and usually happens a result of injury or joint overuse. For example, kneeling on a hard floor for a long time may cause or worsen bursitis. Repeating the same motions or joint stress every day can also cause or worsen bursitis.

Bursitis is often confused with tendonitisBursitis is an inflammation of the bursae that cushion the bone. Tendonitis, on the other hand, is an inflammation of the tendon, or cord, that attaches muscle to bone.

Bursitis can be short-term (acute), as a result of an injury or infection. Or, it can be long-term (chronic), as a result of long-term repetitive motion. Chronic bursitis can occur in any joint that regularly performs repetitive motion.


Bursitis can be very painful. Bursitis often creates the following common symptoms in the affected joint(s):

  • Pain and swelling of the joint.
  • Stiffness
  • Achiness
  • Pain with pressure (it hurts more when you press on it)

Symptoms may vary based on the type of bursitis.

When to See a Doctor

The first sign of trouble with bursitis is pain. Please see your healthcare provider as soon as possible if you have any of the following conditions:

  • Fever
  • Sudden inability to move a joint
  • Disabling pain in the affected joint
  • Excessive redness, swelling, or puffiness
  • A rash or bruising in the affected area
  • Sharp or shooting pains
  • Pain while exercising or exerting the affected joint


Bursitis can be caused by

  • Overusing the joint, overuse at work, or during sports or recreation.The most common causes of bursitis are repetitive motions such as throwing a baseball or repeatedly lifting something heavy.
  • Injury
  • Putting the joint is put under pressure for a long time. Examples include leaning or kneeling on a hard surface for an long period of time.

The following groups of people typically perform these types of motion, and commonly develop bursitis:

  • Athletes. These can be anyone from professional athletes, to weekend-warriors. Many sports require highly repetitive motions, such as throwing a ball, running, jumping, or swinging a bat. These repetitive motions can irritate the bursa and cause bursitis. 
  • Hard-labor/manual-labor workers. People that do highly repetitive, stressful movements, such as heavy lifting, may also irritate the bursa and cause bursitis. 
  • Less Active People. People who are not regularly active can irritate their joints very easily while doing normal activities, such as carrying groceries, or exercising. This joint strain can lead to bursitis. It is important to gradually start any new workout routine.

Other causes of bursitis include trauma or injury to the affected joint, inflammatory arthritis (such as rheumatoid [ROO-ma-toyd] arthritis), infection, and/or gout.

You are also more likely to get bursitis at an older age, or if your occupation or hobbies involve frequent repetitive motion.

Diagnosis and Tests

To diagnose bursitis, your healthcare provider will perform a physical exam. They may take a sample of the bursa’s fluid to make sure the pain is not caused by an infection.

In some cases a healthcare provider may also ultrasound or other imaging to help diagnoses bursitis.Ultrasound is a noninvasive medical test to help your doctor perform a diagnosis by showing real-time conditions of the body’s internal organs, blood vessels, muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, and soft tissues. It is very safe and painless.


Often, bursitis will get better on its own if you rest the affected joint and protect it from any further harm. Most people feel better within a few weeks with proper treatment. However, some people may still have flare-ups of bursitis in the affected area.

Common treatments to relieve bursitis pain include;

  • Resting the affected area to avoid overuse
  • Applying heat, such as a heating pad or warm bath
  • Applying ice to help reduce the swelling (this should only be done for the first 48 hours after symptoms occur) 
  • Taking an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as naproxen sodium (i.e. Aleve) or ibuprofen (Motrin IB, Advil), to relieve the pain and reduce the inflammation. Other options include topical methods, which are applied directly to the skin.
  • Cushioning and supporting the affected joints, especially while sleeping

If these measures do not help, your healthcare provider may recommend these treatments:

  • Therapy, such as exercises or physical therapy designed to help strengthen the affected areas and prevent recurrence
  • Medicines, such as antibiotics if the inflammation is caused by an infection
  • An assistive device, such as a walking cane, to temporarily alleviate the joint stress and help heal bursitis 
  • Injections, such as a corticosteroid [core-tih-co-STARE-oyd] drug to quickly relieve joint bursitis when injected directly into the bursa
  • Surgery, but only in rare cases where a bursa may need to be surgically drained or removed


Some types of bursitis cannot be prevented. There are certain things you can do to help reduce your risk of bursitis due to overstrain or overuse of a joint. These prevention methods include the following:

  • Exercise, warming up, and stretching. Exercise and stretching help keep the muscles conditioned, which makes it less likely for bursitis to occur. 
  • Using kneeling pads. If you know you will be kneeling for a long period of time, use a padding to reduce the pressure on your knees.
  • Taking breaks. Make sure to alternate repetitive tasks with rest so the joints do not become over-strained. 
  • Lifting properly. Bend your knees when you lift. Failing to do so puts extra stress on the bursae in your hips.
  • Wheeling heavy loads. Avoid carrying heavy loads as carrying heavy loads puts stress on the bursae in your shoulders.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight. Being overweight places more stress on your joints.

A bursa is a fluid-filled sac that cushions the bone from other moving parts, such as tendons, muscles, and skin. Bursitis is when the bursa becomes inflamed, and usually happens with overuse or injury. Bursitis is not the same thing as tendonitis.