This information with help you understand bursitis, including causes, diagnosis and treatment.

Bursitis is a painful condition caused by the swelling of a small sac of fluid filled pads called bursae (see Figure 1). Bursae act as cushions among your bones, tendons, and muscles near your joints. There are over 150 bursae in your body. Bursitis most often occurs in the shoulder, elbow, hip, and knee.


There are many causes of bursitis, including: Figure 1: Bursitis Figure 1: Bursitis

  • Wearing tight-fitting shoes
  • Kneeling, sitting, or lying on your side for long periods
  • Stressing or overusing a joint by bicycling, running, playing tennis, throwing a ball many times, or carrying heavy objects
  • Injuries, especially falls
  • Aging
  • Poor posture
  • Irritation of a bursa from:
    • Joint surgery or surgically implanted hardware
    • Bone spurs or calcium deposits on tendons
    • Other medical conditions including gout, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and thyroid disease


Common symptoms of bursitis include:

  • Pain, stiffness, or discomfort around your elbow, hip, knee, shoulder, or other joints. You may feel this while your moving or at rest.
  • Loss of movement due to pain and inflammation.
  • Swelling, although this is mostly seen in the elbow or foot


Your doctor can usually make a diagnosis based on your symptoms and a physical exam. He or she may order blood work and x-ray exams to rule out other possible problems. If there are signs of infection, you may need to have a biopsy. A biopsy involves removing a small amount of bursa fluid with a needle.


Your treatment may include rest, medications, ice or heat, occupational or physical therapy, or steroid injections. Your healthcare team will make treatment recommendations based on your symptoms.

The goal of treatment is to:

  • Reduce pain and inflammation
  • Maintain the use of your joint
  • Prevent a return of bursitis


Rest your joints and avoid activities that cause pain and worsen your symptoms.


You may be prescribed nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as:

  • Ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®)
  • Celecoxib (Celebrex®)
  • Naproxen (Aleve®, Naprosyn®)
  • Diclofenac (Voltaren®)

NSAIDS may have side effects. Talk to your doctor before taking NSAIDs.

Ice or heat

Your doctor or nurse may tell you to ice or heat your joints. Apply ice or heat for 20 minutes every 4 to 6 hours.

When using heat you should:

  • Fill a water bottle with warm, not hot water.
  • Do not leave a heating pad on your joints for more than 20 minutes at a time.

Rehabiltation therapy

Your doctor may refer you to an occupational or physical therapist. Your therapist will:

  • Show you exercises to strengthen your joints
  • Tell you how to protect your joint, which will promote healing and prevent a recurrence
  • Provide an ultrasound, massage, or other therapies

Steroid injections

If your symptoms continue or get worse, your doctor may inject a steroid into the area surrounding your joint. This will help to decrease inflammation and pain.