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What Is Bursitis?

Bursitis is swelling in one of your bursa.

What is a bursa?

A bursa is the flat sac between your bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons that helps keep them from rubbing against each other.

Tissue that lines the bursae produces fluid to lubricate these structures. This reduces friction and helps your bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons move smoothly.

Bursitis occurs when the bursa lining becomes thick and produces too much fluid. This causes swelling and pain.

Types of bursitis

Bursitis happens most often in the:

  • Achilles tendon
  • Elbow
  • Hip
  • Knee
  • Shoulder

Bursitis causes and risk factors

The following risk factors can cause bursitis:

  • Repetitive motion
  • Sudden injury
  • Overuse during certain activities — such as raking, carpentry, shoveling, painting, and climbing stairs
  • Infections
  • Past surgery
  • Reactions to some drugs
  • Age (most common in people older than 40)

Other health issues that may increase your risk of bursitis include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Gout
  • Thyroid conditions
  • Spinal problems — such as scoliosis, differences in leg length, and bone spurs
  • Calcium deposits 

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Bursitis Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of bursitis

Common bursitis symptoms include:

  • Swelling
  • Pain, which may increase gradually or come on suddenly
  • Redness, tenderness, and warmth to the touch
  • Aching
  • Stiffness

Bursitis diagnosis

When diagnosing bursitis, your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and perform an exam.

He or she may also order:

  • Imaging tests, such as an x-ray or MRI, which can help rule out other causes of your symptoms.
  • Lab tests to check your blood or the fluid in your bursa, which can help find the cause of the inflammation and pain. 

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Bursitis Treatment

Doctors at UPMC Orthopaedic Care may use nonsurgical or surgical methods to treat your bursitis.

Nonsurgical bursitis treatments

Treatments include:

  • Rest.
  • Avoiding activities that can cause symptoms or make them worse.
  • Icing the affected area.
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen.
  • Antibiotics, if an infection caused your bursitis.

Your doctor may also suggest:

  • Splints or canes to help relieve pain or keep a joint still.
  • Physical therapy, including range of motion exercises for bursitis.
  • Corticosteroid shots, if your bursitis doesn't improve with more conservative treatments.

Bursitis surgery

Surgery may be necessary if other bursitis treatments don't work.

Your doctor may want to remove the affected bursa via open or arthroscopic surgery.

Both are outpatient procedures, but arthroscopic methods are less invasive than open ones. Most people return home the same day.

Depending on where your surgeon removes the bursa, you may need a rehab program before resuming normal activities. 

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