Bursitis is a painful condition that affects the joints. Bursae are fluid-filled sacs that act as a cushion between bones, tendons, joints, and muscles. When these sacs become inflamed it is called bursitis.
It is a relatively common condition, but many people treat it at home and do not see a doctor, so it is hard to know how common it is.
There are over 150 bursae in the human body. They cushion and lubricate points between the bones, tendons, and muscles near the joints.
The bursae are lined with synovial cells. Synovial cells produce a lubricant that reduces friction between tissues. This cushioning and lubrication allows our joints to move easily.
When a person has bursitis, or inflammation of the bursa, movement or pressure is painful.
Overuse, injury, and sometimes an infection from gout or rheumatoid arthritis may cause bursitis. Tennis elbow is one type of bursitis.
Hips, knees, ankles and other joints can be affected by bursitis.
Any bursa can become affected, but bursitis is more likely in certain places. People with bursitis will feel pain at the site of inflammation.
The areas where bursitis most commonly occurs are the:
When bursitis affects the knee, it is sometimes called “clergyman’s knee,” or “housemaid’s knee,” and when it affects the elbow, it is “tennis elbow.”
An ice pack can help to relieve pain.
Self-care normally involves:
Protecting the affected area: Padding can protect the affected bursae from contact.
Rest: Not using the joints in the affected area unless necessary. Bursitis responds well to rest.
Ice packs: Placing ice packs wrapped in a towel on the affected area can help reduce pain and inflammation. Alternatively, a small pack of frozen vegetables will do. The ice should not be placed directly on the skin. Ice packs for injuries are available for purchase online.
Raising the affected area: Less blood will gather if it is elevated, and this may help reduce inflammation.
Painkillers: Ibuprofen is effective as a painkiller and to reduce inflammation. Ibuprofen is available to buy over-the-counter or online.
Medical treatment may be needed for more severe symptoms.
The doctor may inject steroids into the affected area. Steroids block a body chemical called prostaglandin. Prostaglandin causes inflammation. Steroids should be used with care, as they may raise the patient’s blood pressure if used for too long, and increase the risk of getting an infection.
If a fluid test confirms a bacterial infection, the doctor will probably prescribe antibiotics. These will be administered orally, for example as tablets, or intravenously, in more severe cases.
Very rarely, the bursa may have to be surgically drained.
Heat and cold treatment: Which is best?
Find out how to use heat and ice to treat pain