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What Is Bursitis?

What Is Bursitis?
What Is Bursitis?

What Exactly Is Bursitis?

A bursa is a little fluid-filled sac that functions to operate as a gliding surface to reduce rubbing, friction and irritation between tissues in the body. There are well over a hundred bursae in the human body and the major bursae are all located near the large joints of the body such as the hips, knees, shoulders and elbows. Bursitis is the inflammation of a bursa.

What Is The Cause?

Bursitis is normally caused by repetitive minor impact on the area of the bursa where overuse and/or incorrect work or activity posture or technique can lead to the condition. It also commonly occurs as the result of a sudden, more significant injury. This condition in general is common but is more common in adults and specifically individuals over 40 as age does plays a role in your soft tissues being less tolerant to stress, less elastic, and are easier to tear or injure.

Other potential causes include:

  • Infection: Examples of bursitis as the result of infection include the bursa at front of the knee from scraping your knee on asphalt (this would be called septic prepatellar bursitis).
  • Gout: Inflammation of the elbow bursa from gout crystals can cause what is referred to as an olecranon bursitis.
  • Rheumatic conditions: Rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis can make people more susceptible to suffering the condition.

Where In The Body Does Bursitis Occur?

Bursitis can be experienced in a number of locations throughout the body, most commonly you get the condition in your:

  • Shoulder
  • Hip
  • Knee
  • Heel
  • Elbow

What Are the Symptoms?

Without a doubt the most common symptom is pain. This pain may build up gradually or be of sudden onset. In a situation of overuse the pain will typically be of gradual onset however in the case of trauma or injury the pain may come on almost immediately. Pain experienced may be only mild and annoying or be severe and debilitating. When pain is more severe, loss of motion at the joint may also occur and the loss of mobility may be severe in some instances.

How Is It Diagnosed?

Bursitis is typically identified by the history of the problem and physical examination carried out by a physiotherapist or doctor. Localized pain, swelling, tenderness, and limited or painful motion of the tissues in the affected area are all common signs and symptoms. Your physiotherapist will be able to perform some special tests to further help with diagnosis.

  • The use of X-ray may detect calcification’s in the bursa when the condition has been chronic or recurrent.
  • However typically Ultrasound Scanning or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) will be used to help diagnose the condition.
  • Laboratory evaluation may be required for diagnosis with infectious bursitis.

What’s The Treatment?

Bursitis can be treated in a number of ways, for a bursitis that is not infected treatment typically includes:

  • Avoiding activities that aggravate the problem.
  • Resting the injured area.
  • Ice.
  • Anti-inflammatory medicines.
  • Physiotherapy.
  • Corticosteroids injections (cortisone injection).
  • Surgery, although rarely needed, may be an option when it does not respond to more conservative treatment options.

Infectious (septic) bursitis is uncommon but requires further evaluation and aggressive treatment. The bursal fluid can be examined in a lab to identify the microbes causing the infection. Treatment of septic bursitis requires antibiotic therapy, sometimes provided intravenously. Repeated aspiration of the inflamed fluid may also be required, including sometimes surgical drainage and removal of the infected bursa (called a bursectomy).

Can You Prevent Bursitis?

If you are planning to start exercising or begin a new activity you will generally be less likely to develop bursitis if you gradually build up the force, repetitions and frequency of training or activity. Listen to your body and stop what you are doing if unusual, localized or persistent pain occurs and seek medical attention from your doctor or physiotherapist.

Disclaimer: Sydney Physio Clinic does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products mentioned. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific advice or assistance regarding What Is Bursitis? should consult his or her orthopaedic surgeon, general practitioner, sports medicine specialist or physiotherapist.

Hayden Latimer is the founder of and principle physiotherapist at Sydney Physio Clinic. Since graduating from Otago University, Dunedin, New Zealand he’s gained wide experience practicing across the globe for over 15 years and is now extremely knowledgeable in helping people reduce discomfort and restore function and mobility.


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