Bursae are small, fluid-filled sacs that cushion the bones, tendons, and muscles near joints. When these sacs become inflamed, a person experiences a painful condition known as bursitis.
Bursitis is common near joints that are subjected to repetitive stress, such as the shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, heels, and even at the base of the big toe. Treatment usually takes effect within a few weeks, but future flare-ups are common.
Bursitis may cause the affected area to feel achy or stiff, with symptoms worsening with pressure or movement. The area may also be swollen or red in appearance. Bursitis may affect anybody, but it is more common in people over the age of 40. Repetitive motions, prolonged pressure (such as kneeling or propping oneself up on elbows for an extended period), and injury increase a person’s risk of developing bursitis. Some medical conditions, such as arthritis, gout, or diabetes, also increase one’s risk.
In many cases, a doctor may be able to diagnose bursitis by taking a medical history and performing a physical exam. In other cases, additional testing may be required, such as X-rays, MRIs, ultrasounds, blood tests, or analysis of fluid extracted from the bursae. Once diagnosed, the first step for treating bursitis is often as simple RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Mild over-the-counter painkillers may reduce pain and swelling, but it is important to talk with your doctor or pharmacist before starting any new medications. If these conservative treatment methods are ineffective, some other possible treatment methods may include:
Prescription medications – A stronger painkiller than is available over-the-counter may be required to alleviate symptoms. If the source of the inflammation is infection, antibiotics may be prescribed.
Physical therapy – A structured, monitored program of exercises may help strengthen the muscle and tendons surrounding the affected area, reducing stress on the bursae. This reduction of stress may help alleviate pain and swelling.
Injections – A corticosteroid shot injected into the bursae may bring rapid relief in one treatment.
Mobility aids – If the hip or knee is affected, using a cane may help reduce pressure on the affected area.
Surgery – In severe cases, the bursae may need to be drained surgically.
If you are experiencing symptoms you believe may be related to bursitis, contact your doctor for a proper diagnosis.