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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.

Treatment will depend on the severity of the symptoms.

Self-treatment

Most cases of bursitis cases can be treated at home, with the help of a pharmacist and some self-care techniques.

[ice pack on sore heel]
An ice pack can help to relieve pain.

Self-care normally involves:

Medical treatment

Medical treatment may be needed for more severe symptoms.

Steroids

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.

Antibiotics

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.

A person with bursitis can have one or more of the following symptoms:

If the bursitis is caused by an infection, it is called septic bursitis. A patient with septic bursitis may have the following additional symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Redness in the affected area
  • The affected area feels hot when touched

When to see a doctor

Many people treat bursitis at home, but if symptoms are more severe, they should seek medical help.

More severe symptoms include:

  • Joint pain that prevents all movement
  • Pain lasting longer than 2 weeks
  • Sharp, shooting pains
  • Excessive swelling, bruising, rash, or redness in the affected region
  • Fever

These may be signs of septic bursitis, a potentially serious medical condition.

Bursitis can result from an injury, an infection, or a pre-existing condition in which crystals can form in the bursa.

Injury

An injury can irritate the tissue inside the bursa and cause inflammation. Doctors say that bursitis caused by an injury usually takes time to develop. The joints, tendons, or muscles that are near the bursa may have been overused. Most commonly, injury is caused by repetitive movements.

Repetitive use of a joint leaves athletes prone to bursitis.

Some causes of bursitis include:

Infection

Infection that causes bursitis tends to be in bursae that are nearer the surface of the skin, such as those near the elbow. A cut on the skin is an opportunity for the bacteria to get in.

Most healthy people are not affected by bacteria entering through the skin, but people with a weakened immune system are more at risk. Examples are those with diabetes or HIV/AIDS, those who are receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy for cancer treatment, people taking steroids, and heavy consumers of alcohol.

Health conditions

People with certain health conditions are more likely to have crystals form inside the bursa. The crystals irritate the bursa and make it swell. Conditions that may cause this include gout, rheumatoid arthritis, and scleroderma.

The following tips are commonly recommended for preventing bursitis:

Exercises to strengthen muscles should only be done after the bursitis has gone completely.