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Quick Facts



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Last full review/revision Jul 2020| Content last modified Jul 2020
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A bursa is a small sac filled with fluid. You have many bursae (the plural of bursa). Bursae cushion your muscles, tendons, and ligaments around joints and keep them from rubbing against each other.

What is bursitis?

Bursitis is inflammation of a bursa.

  • The bursa swells up with fluid

  • Sometimes the swelling is red and tender to touch

  • Bursitis may not hurt, it may hurt only when you move the joint, or it may hurt all the time

  • Bursitis happens most often in the shoulder, elbow, and hip but can also affect your knee, toe, or heel

  • Doctors treat bursitis with rest, splints, pain medicine, and corticosteroids

What causes bursitis?

The most common causes of bursitis are:

  • Overuse of a joint, usually moving it the same way over and over again

  • Putting constant pressure on the same area, like working on your knees or leaning on your elbow a lot

Other causes of bursitis include:

What are the symptoms of bursitis?

Symptoms of bursitis can come on suddenly or build up over time. They may come and go. They can include:

  • A painful swelling around a joint

  • Swelling that may be red or your normal skin color

  • Sometimes pain when moving the joint

What are the complications of bursitis?

Sometimes the bursitis fluid gets infected by bacteria. Infection makes the redness and pain much worse.

How can doctors tell if I have bursitis?

Doctors can often tell you have bursitis based on your symptoms and examination. They may:

  • Use a needle to take a sample of fluid from the swollen bursa to check for infection or gout

Most of the time you don't need any other tests, but sometimes doctors will:

How do doctors treat bursitis?

If your bursitis isn't caused by an infection, doctors will have you:

  • Rest

  • Use a splint to keep your joint from moving

  • Put an ice pack on the painful area

  • Take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen or other medicines for pain

  • Do physical therapy or exercises to help your joint move more freely

Sometimes doctors will drain the fluid in the bursa with a needle. They may inject the bursa with medicines such as corticosteroids to lessen the inflammation. If the bursitis doesn't go away or keeps coming back and is still causing problems, doctors may suggest surgery to remove the bursa.

If a bursa is infected, doctors will:

  • Drain the fluid

  • Prescribe antibiotics

Doctors will treat the cause of your bursitis. It's important to do this so your bursitis doesn't come back.

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Muscle, Bursa, and Tendon Disorders
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