Bursitis is a painful joint condition usually caused by overuse or trauma. It most often affects the hips, elbows, shoulders, and knees but can also occur in the ankles or the big toe.
Bursitis technically affects the bursae, small sacs of fluid that act as a cushioning force for the bones, muscles, and tendons that surround the joints. When these become inflamed, usually as a result of repetitive motion or traumatic strain, they become painful and can make it difficult to move the joint properly, which can inhibit your normal daily activity.
The first symptom of bursitis is usually stiffness or an aching pain in the joint; it may also be visibly red or swollen. The pain gets worse when pressure is applied to the area, or when you move the joint. For some people, the pain comes on gradually over the course of a few days or weeks, while for others it may be sharp and sudden. Sudden, severe pain is more common in people who have calcium deposits in their joints. If you’re unable to move the joint at all, or if you develop a fever, call your doctor immediately.
The best treatment for bursitis is rest: give the joint a break from the repetitive motions that caused the strain, and avoid other activities that aggravate the pain. By applying ice to the area regularly and taking over-the-counter pain medication as needed to help alleviate pain and swelling, the condition can usually be treated from home and should clear up within a few weeks. For many people, however, bursitis is a recurrent condition, so it may flare up again with future strain.
If the pain is so bad as to be disabling, if it lasts more than two weeks with home treatment, or if you experience shooting pains or a loss of mobility (especially common in the shoulder), consult your doctor for more aggressive treatment. They may recommend corticosteroid injections to help with severe pain and swelling, along with physical therapy to both heal the bursitis and strengthen the joint to prevent future injury.