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Bursitis - Here is What You Need to Know

14 March 2023

Painful, swollen joints can make everyday activities unbearable. But they indicate that something is not right with your body and requires immediate attention. From working at a desk for extended periods to gardening and playing sports, many experience joint pain from time to time. But if the discomfort persists or worsens, it could be a sign of bursitis, an inflammatory condition affecting the bursae.

Bursae at a Glance

Our bodies comprise several muscles, ligaments, and tendons, which must move over bones and against each other during joint movement. All this movement can cause friction and lead to wear and tear.

This is where the bursae come in. These little, fluid-filled sacs provide cushioning between muscle and bone, as well as ligament-to-bone, tendon-to-bone, and tendon-to-muscle. They reduce friction and may even protect joints from the shock of movement.

Our body has over 140 bursae; each can be considered a tiny balloon with a drop or two of fluid. More technically, each bursa has two essential components:

The Synovial Membrane: This part of the bursa is responsible for producing a lubricating fluid known as synovial fluid. The synovial membrane also prevents the entry of foreign particles, such as bacteria and other infectious agents. It also makes the synovial sac.

The Synovial Fluid: This fluid is slippery and viscous. It is responsible for the lubrication between the two surfaces. It is somewhat similar to an egg white in texture and appearance.

Understanding Bursitis

Bursitis occurs when these bursae become inflamed due to an injury or excessive strain on the joint. In most inflammation cases, the synovial membrane thickens and starts to produce excessive amounts of synovial fluid. The bursa begins to swell, leading to a condition called bursitis. The symptoms of bursitis include:

Swelling and Redness

The affected area will most likely become swollen and red when bursitis occurs. This is caused by the accumulation of fluid in the synovial sac. The swelling can be accompanied by warmth or heat sensation around the joint.

Pain When Pressing or Moving the Joints

The excess pressure from inflammation leads to a feeling of pain when you press or move the joints. This pain can be mild to severe, depending on the severity of the inflammation.

Difficulty Using the Affected Joint

The swollen bursae usually constrict movement, making it difficult to use the affected joint without discomfort. Sometimes, you may find it hard to even put weight on that joint.

Tenderness at Rest or During Activity

Apart from swelling, redness, and pain when pressing or moving the joint, you may also experience tenderness around the affected area when resting or during activity. This is because of increased pressure caused by inflammation in the synovial sac when using the joint for walking or climbing stairs.

Commonly Affected Joints

Bursitis can affect any joint around the body, such as the wrists, ankles, and toes. However, it is most commonly associated with the shoulder, hips, elbows, and knee joints.

Shoulder Bursitis

One of the most common forms of bursitis is shoulder bursitis, which affects the shoulder joint. It's usually caused by overuse and repetitive movements such as sports activities or jobs that require long periods of reaching overhead. Other causes include arthritis, gout, and infection. Symptoms usually include pain in the shoulder that might shoot down to your arm, as well as tenderness in the joint when touched.

Elbow Bursitis

Another major form of bursitis is elbow bursitis, which affects the elbow joint and is often caused by trauma or an infection near the elbow area. Common symptoms include swelling around the joint, stiffness, and aching pain when moving the affected arm. In some cases, there may also be redness or warmth in the area.

Hip Bursitis

The most common form of hip bursitis is trochanteric bursitis, which affects the outer region of the hip joint near the thighbone. It's generally caused by over-exertion and repetitive activities like running or climbing stairs that can worsen it. Symptoms include pain on one side of your hip, tenderness when pressure is applied, and difficulty walking or putting weight on the affected leg.

Knee Bursitis

Knee bursitis is the inflammation of the bursa located near the knee joint. It's caused by overuse and repetitive knee joint motion, such as kneeling or squatting for long periods, or trauma to the area. Symptoms usually include tenderness in the knee when touched and swelling around the joint.

Diagnosing Bursitis

Bursitis is usually diagnosed through a physical examination and a medical history review. During the physical exam, your doctor will check for signs of inflammation, such as swelling and tenderness in the affected joint. They may also ask you to do certain movements to help determine which area is most affected.

Your doctor may also order lab tests or imaging studies like X-rays and MRI scans to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other possible causes of your symptoms.

Bursitis vs. Tendonitis

Bursitis and tendonitis are overuse injuries that occur when there is too much stress on the joints. While tendonitis affects the tendons, bursitis affects the small sacs of fluid called bursae that help reduce friction between bones, ligaments, and tendons.

Symptoms for both conditions can include pain and swelling in the affected area. However, it's important to note that although they have similar symptoms, they require different treatments.

Treating Bursitis

Once bursitis has been diagnosed, the doctor will formulate a plan depending on the severity of the condition and the area in which it has impacted. The goal of treatment is to reduce pain and inflammation in the affected joint so you can start participating in normal activities again. It's important to note that it may take several weeks or even months before full recovery occurs, depending on the severity of your condition. Generally speaking, the following are recommended treatments for bursitis:


This means avoiding strenuous activities such as running, jumping, or lifting heavy objects for a while. It is important to rest the area to allow it to heal and reduce the pain and swelling.


Applying an ice pack several times daily can help reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. Ice should be applied for 10-15 minutes, with a cloth or paper towel placed between your skin and the ice to avoid frostbite.

Over-the-Counter Medications

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) can relieve pain and reduce swelling. However, these medications should be used only under the supervision of a doctor.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is often recommended for bursitis, as it can help strengthen the muscles around the affected joint and improve the range of motion. Physical therapists may also use manual manipulation techniques to help alleviate pain. Range-of-motion exercises are also important to keep the area flexible and properly functioning.

Corticosteroid Injections

In some cases, corticosteroid injections may be administered directly into the bursa to reduce inflammation and provide long-term relief from pain. An experienced medical professional should only perform injections.


As a last resort, surgery may be required if other treatments have failed or if there is significant damage to the bursa. Surgery is usually performed arthroscopically, and the goal is to remove the inflamed bursa to reduce pain and improve mobility.

It's important to remember that recovery from bursitis can take some time, and a combination of treatments may be necessary for optimal results. If you suspect you have bursitis, seek medical attention as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment.

Prevention is the Best Cure

Like all other musculoskeletal injuries, the best way to prevent bursitis is to keep your muscles and joints strong. Regular stretching, exercising, and proper form when lifting can all help reduce the risk of developing bursitis in the first place. If you are involved in any repetitive motion activity, take frequent breaks and switch up your routine periodically. Also, always use proper body mechanics when lifting objects so that you don't strain any particular joint or muscle group unnecessarily. Taking these simple steps may reduce your chances of developing bursitis in the future.

The main culprit behind bursitis in office workers is poor posture. Sitting in a chair for long periods can put you at risk, as it causes strain on the muscles and joints. It is important to stay mindful of your posture throughout the day and ensure that you sit up straight with your shoulders back.

Ergonomic Office Chair OC3

As a desk job worker, chances are you will spend a considerable portion of your day in a chair. Investing in an ergonomic office chair can help to reduce strain and fatigue. Look for a chair with adjustable features such as armrests, back support, and height adjustment. This will help you maintain good posture, which is key to staying healthy when studying.

The Ergonomic Office Chair OC3 by FlexiSpot provides unparalleled ergonomic support and comfort. Its adjustable armrests, headrest, and height adjustment settings make it the perfect chair for long seating sessions.

The mesh back ensures you remain cool and comfortable all day long. The adjustable lock-in tilt feature helps to tilt the chair when you want to rest, which is essential for avoiding fatigue and tension.

Final Thoughts

Bursitis is a common inflammatory condition that can cause pain and stiffness in the affected joint. It is most commonly seen in athletes, laborers, and office workers. Although there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for bursitis, a combination of rest, physical therapy, medications, and corticosteroid injections may be necessary to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain.

Prevention is always best for musculoskeletal injuries, so make sure you're taking steps to keep your muscles strong and flexible. If you think you may have bursitis or are experiencing persistent joint pain or swelling, contact your doctor immediately for diagnosis and treatment. With proper care and attention, you can reduce the severity of bursitis and get back to living pain-free!

Please note that this article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult your doctor before beginning any new treatment or taking over-the-counter medications.

If you are experiencing persistent joint pain, swelling, or stiffness, please get in touch with your physician immediately. Do not attempt to self-diagnose or self-treat. Taking proactive steps towards good health can make all the difference in managing your condition!