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What is Bursitis?

Bursitis is swelling (inflammation) of a bursa – a small fluid-filled pouch (sac). A bursa acts like a cushion between a bone and muscles, tendons, or skin. Bursitis causes a bursa to become red, swollen, and painful.

When to See a Doctor

You should see your primary care provider if the pain in your joint:

  • is sharp
  • prevents you from doing your daily activities
  • worsens with time
  • doesn’t get better with conservative treatment (anti-inflammatory medicines, ice, and rest).


Bursitis is usually caused by overuse, injury or infection. Your risk of bursitis goes up with:

  • Activities that require repeating the same motions every day, such as sports, playing a musical instrument, or working a production line.
  • Repeated stress, such as kneeling on a hard floor or leaning your elbows on a hard surface for long periods of time.

Diagnosis and Tests

To find out if you have bursitis, your healthcare provider will likely check your joint and ask you questions about your activities and medical history. Be prepared to explain:

  • When it started
  • Where the pain is located
  • When it feels worse and what makes it better

Your provider may also order imaging tests, such as an MRI, to rule out a more serious injury. Fluid may also be taken from the joint and tested for infection.


Treatments for bursitis include:

  • Changing or stopping the activity
  • Rest, ice, elevation and/or compression
  • Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicine (aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen)
  • Physical therapy or exercises
  • Braces, splints, or other assistive devices
  • Antibiotics (if caused by an infection)
  • Steroid injections
  • Surgery

Bursitis can usually be treated by a primary care provider. You may need to see a specialist for certain treatments, such as a steroid injection or surgery.


To prevent bursitis, or to keep it from flaring up:

  • Get regular exercise
  • Slowly start any new exercise program
  • Stop when you feel pain
  • Take breaks from repetitive tasks
  • Practice good posture
  • Don’t sit for long periods of time


Symptoms of bursitis include joint pain and swelling.