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Bursitis overview

December 11, 2014

Bursitis is inflammation of a bursa. These are membranes near joints. Bursa act as cushions between muscles and bones. They reduce friction caused by movement and make joints more flexible.

Bursitis often happens when a joint is used too much, such as when throwing a baseball or painting a wall. It can sometimes be caused by gout or an infection.

Symptoms

Symptoms of bursitis include:

  • pain around the elbow, hip, shoulder, or knee, especially when the joint is used or pressure is applied to it
  • redness, warmth, and swelling; these can mean the area is infected

Diagnosis

To diagnose bursitis, your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and recent activities. He or she will press on the painful area to determine whether the pain is located over a bursa. Your doctor also may order x-rays to check for other conditions, though these often come back normal.

If your doctor suspects that gout or an infection is causing your bursitis, he or she may recommend that you have a test in which a sample of the fluid is removed from the bursa for analysis.

Treating bursitis

Taking care of the affected joint can make bursitis go away within days or weeks. That means resting the joint and using it carefully.

It may also be helpful to take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, and others) or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn, others) to relieve discomfort and reduce the inflammation. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) may also be effective.

Physical therapy may also help.

When the pain is intense or doesn't improve in a short period, your doctor may inject a corticosteroid drug directly into the area. Getting several steroid injections over a short time can be damaging.

If bursitis is caused by an infection, you may need to have the bursa drained and take an antibiotic.

Surgery may be needed if bursitis occurs repeatedly in the same joint, or you have an infection in the bursa that antibiotics do not clear up.

Disclaimer:

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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