Diagnosing Bursitis

Flexing the elbow

The human body has bursae, small fluid-filled sacs, near the joints to provide cushioning for nearby bones, tendons, and muscles. When these bursae are put under too much stress or become injured, one or more bursae may become inflamed. This inflammation may cause achiness, stiffness, swelling, or visible redness.

The primary symptoms of bursitis are very similar to many other injury-related conditions, including sprains, muscle strains, and in some cases even fractures or tendon damage. To make sure the injury is being treated in the best manner, it is important to have the painful area examined by a doctor for a proper diagnosis. To determine the cause of your pain, your doctor will likely start an appointment by gathering a complete medical history, including details of how you injured the area. The physician will likely perform a physical exam, checking for swelling, discoloration, warmness to the touch, range of motion, and determining which specific spots are most sensitive to movement and pressure. Following this initial examination, your physician may wish to run further diagnostic tests. These may include:

  • X-Ray – X-Rays primarily show bones, so an X-Ray itself cannot diagnose bursitis. This imaging test may, however, be used to confirm or rule out damage to the bone, such as a fracture, a bone spur, or arthritis.

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging test – Commonly known as an MRI, this imaging exam provides a better look at the muscles, tendons. ligaments, and soft tissues than X-Rays. Such a test may be performed, but it is on the less common side of diagnostic procedures for suspected bursitis.

  • Aspiration – Fluid from the affected bursa may be taken, or aspirated, for review under a microscope. Such a test may confirm or rule out gout or infection.

  • Blood tests – A blood sample may be taken to rule out autoimmune conditions, such as Type I Diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis.

A person’s instinct when dealing with the pain that may indicate bursitis is to apply simple first aid and rest. However, it is always best to err on the side of caution and seek a proper diagnosis, especially if the symptoms are severe or persist for several days.

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