What is this?
All day long, you’ve been sitting at your desk and notice that your elbow looks red and swollen. When you move your arm, it hurts. This continues for the next few days, so you go to the doctor. He confirms that you have bursitis. What caused it to occur? How can you get rid of it? Is there a way to prevent it?
Bursitis occurs when the bursae become inflamed. The bursae are tiny, fluid-filled sacs that cushion bones, tendons, and muscles near your joints. Bursitis can happen in any location, but the most common spots include the shoulder, elbow, and hip. Most often, the bursae become inflamed by repetitive motions that put pressure on them. Some examples include extensive kneeling for tasks, leaning on your elbow for long periods, or repeatedly lifting something over your head. Other ways bursae can become inflamed are trauma to the affected area, inflammatory arthritis, gout, and infection. You’re also at increased risk as you age and if you’re overweight.
Bursitis symptoms are a joint that feels achy/stiff, hurts more when you move/press on it, and looks swollen and red. If you have disabling joint pain, sudden inability to move a joint, excessive swelling/redness/bruising/rash in the affected area, sharp/shooting pain (especially when you exercise or exert yourself), or a fever, you should see your doctor.
Fortunately, bursitis usually gets better on its own. To aid in the process, you can try resting the area and taking over-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen. In addition, you can try heat and cold therapy. For the first 48 hours, use ice and then switch to heat (ex. heating pad or warm bath). If these don’t work, you should see your doctor. They might recommend corticosteroid injections to help relieve pain and inflammation (usually for shoulder or hip bursitis). Often, it only takes one injection to feel better. If an infection causes your bursitis, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic. Physical therapy is an excellent way to learn exercises that can help strengthen the muscles of the affected area, which will not only reduce pain but prevent a recurrence. Occasionally, an inflamed bursa will need to be surgically drained.
While it may not be possible to prevent all types of bursitis, there are things you can do to lower your risk and reduce the severity of flare-ups. If your job or hobby requires repetitive kneeling, try using kneeling pads. When lifting something, use proper techniques, using your legs, not your back. If a load is heavy, don’t try to muscle it. Instead, use a dolly or a cart. If you participate in repetitive tasks, be sure to take frequent breaks. Maintain a healthy weight, so you aren’t adding unneeded stress on your bursae. Regular exercise can help keep your muscles strong, so your joints are protected. Just remember to warm up and stretch before any strenuous activities. If you’re a side sleeper, try placing a pillow between your knees.
Bursitis can be painful and debilitating. However, with some minor adjustments, you can get back to your everyday life. If you have any questions or concerns about bursitis, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases’ Bursitis page at https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/bursitis