What is bursitis?
Your body is a machine that you use every day. From walking to reaching for a mug in the cabinet, typing on the computer, or bending over, you probably rely on specific types of repetitive motion to accomplish daily tasks.
Sometimes, that constant movement causes inflammation in your joints and muscles. This can limit your range of motion and lead to a condition known as bursitis.
Bursitis occurs when one of your bursa becomes inflamed. Your bursae are the fluid-filled sacs that reduce friction between your body's joints. They act as a cushion between your muscle and bones, skin, or tendons.
The type of bursitis you have depends on the location of the irritated bursa. Bursitis can affect the calves, knees, hips, elbows, and shoulders. Older people, athletes, and active adults who engage in repetitive movements including manual labor are at a higher risk of developing bursitis.
Symptoms of bursitis
Bursitis symptoms depend on the type of injury or part of the body involved. They typically include:
- Limited range-of-motion
- Redness if the inflamed bursa sits near your skin
If you have chronic bursitis, you'll experience these symptoms in your joints repeatedly. The longer this condition lasts, the higher your chance of muscle atrophy and a limited range of motion.
Bursitis resembles other medical conditions or problems, including arthritis. It's best to see your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.
Causes of bursitis
Bursitis is typically a result of sports injuries or repetitive movements. Other factors that also contribute to this condition include:
Diagnosis for bursitis
Only a licensed healthcare professional can diagnose bursitis. If you suspect you have bursitis, make an appointment with your doctor.
You can expect a physical exam and a series of diagnostic tests, including:
- X-rays to view your bones and organs for damage.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for a detailed picture of your joints
- Ultrasound, which uses high-frequency sound waves to view internal organs and tissues
- Blood tests to confirm or rule out other medical conditions
- Aspiration, which involves using a thin needle to remove fluid from the bursa to check for infection or gout
Treatment for bursitis
Bursitis can be painful. It's important to let the inflamed joint or limb rest, or you could prevent it from healing.
If you're experiencing symptoms, try the following:
- Rest your body and avoid heavy activity that causes pain.
- Apply ice for 15 to 20 minutes a few times a day for the first 72 hours.
- After the first three days, alternate the ice packs with a heating pad or warm compress.
- Consider taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, to reduce inflammation.
- Avoid tobacco smoke as it delays tissue and wound healing.
It may also help to wear a brace or sling to provide extra support to the affected area. This will help to prevent overusing a particular muscle or joint until the pain starts to dissipate.
If your pain continues to get worse, see your doctor. They will likely refer you to a physical therapist or a rheumatologist.
This therapist will provide exercises for your particular type of bursitis that can improve range of motion, maintain strength, and support muscle and joint function. Even if the pain has gone away, a decreased range of motion in one area of the body could mean other problems are developing.
It's important to start medical treatment as soon as possible. Delaying it can lead to stiff joints and chronic problems in the future.
Complications and side effects of bursitis
Sometimes the fluid inside the bursa becomes infected. If this happens, you'll probably need to take an antibiotic.
If your bursitis doesn't improve, a corticosteroid injection may help reduce inflammation. These must be used with caution because over time they can weaken your tendons.
If your bursitis lasts longer than six months, you may need surgery to relieve pressure on the bursae and repair damage.
The draining of the infected fluid followed by the removal of the bursa is called a bursectomy.
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