Have you ever experienced a nagging pain in your shoulders, hips, elbows or knees that won’t seem to quit? Chances are, you might be dealing with bursitis.
Bursitis is a painful condition that can affect anyone. However, it does have a soft spot for hardcore athletes and even weekend warriors.
Read on to learn more about bursitis and ways you can get some relief from pain.
What is bursitis?
Bursitis happens when your bursae (small, fluid-filled sacs which cushion bones, tendons and muscles near the joints) become irritated and inflamed.
“Bursitis is often caused by repetitive motions, overuse, sudden injuries or from natural wear and tear that comes with aging,” said Elizabeth Batterton, MD, a sports medicine specialist with Banner – University Medicine. “Spending time in positions that put pressure on certain body parts can lead to bursitis.”
Several sports and physical activities, such as long-distance running, tennis, golf, baseball and softball, weightlifting and skiing, can increase the risk for bursitis. Certain jobs that require repetitive motion, like construction work, carpentry and painting, may also increase the risk.
The painful condition can also be caused by other problems, like arthritis or infection, but these are less common.
The most common locations for bursitis are the shoulder, elbow and hip, but it can happen in other places like your big toe, knees and buttocks.
“In addition to pain in the joint, you may notice swelling and stiffness in the joint,” Dr. Batterton said. “It can become difficult to perform certain movements or activities.”
How can I cope with bursitis?
Dealing with bursitis can be a pain – literally! The good news is bursitis generally gets better with proper care. Here are eight ways you can reduce pain and let the bursa heal.
- Rest: Resting the affected joint and muscle is the first step in coping with bursitis. “This means taking a break from activities that put pressure on that part of your body, giving it time to heal,” Dr. Batterton said. “Don’t push through the pain.”
- Ice and heat therapy: Ice packs wrapped in a thin towel can help reduce swelling and pain. Apply for 15-20 minutes at a time. You can also use dry or moist heat, such as a heating pad or warm bath, to soothe sore joints and increase blood flow.
- Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers: Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, to relieve pain and reduce swelling. Ask your health care provider or a pharmacist for help if you have questions about dosage. “There are OTC creams, gels and patches that contain ingredients like menthol, NSAIDs and topical lidocaine that can be applied directly to the area to help provide pain relief,” Dr. Batterton said.
- Supportive gear: If you have bursitis around your knees or hips, use padding or cushions to help reduce the pressure on the joint and relieve pain. You might want to use a cane, brace or splints, depending on the location and severity of your bursitis. A splint or brace might feel good on an injured knee or elbow.
- Anti-inflammatory diet: Your food choices can affect your body's inflammation. Anti-inflammatory foods tend to be the same foods that can keep you healthy in other ways. Eat a rainbow of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes and limit foods like processed foods, meats and sugary treats. Drinking plenty of water is also essential. Staying hydrated helps your joints stay lubricated. Talk to your provider or a registered dietitian for personalized guidance on a balanced diet.
Sometimes, you might need more help to find relief. If conservative measures don’t work, your provider might recommend:
- Physical therapy: Physical therapy is an excellent noninvasive option for bursitis. “A physical therapist can create a personalized exercise plan to improve your range of motion (mobility), strengthen muscles and correct posture,” Dr. Batterton said.
- Medications: If an infection causes swelling in your bursa, your provider might prescribe an antibiotic.
- Injections: Your provider might inject steroids into the area to relieve your symptoms. Steroids block a chemical (prostaglandin) in the body that causes inflammation. There are side effects with these drugs, so talk to your provider about the possible risks.
- Aspiration: A joint aspiration might be done to remove fluid around your joint and determine the cause of your inflammation and pain. “If there is a concern that an infection caused your bursitis, the drained fluid can be sent for lab testing to find out what infection you have and the best way to treat it,” Dr. Batterton said.
- Surgery: In rare cases, your provider may recommend surgery to remove or repair the affected bursa and tendons. Surgery is typically a last resort when all other treatments no longer work.
Can I prevent bursitis?
While you can’t completely guarantee that you won’t develop bursitis, there are some steps you can take to reduce the risk:
- Practice good posture when sitting and standing.
- Use proper body mechanics, such as using your knees when lifting instead of your back.
- Avoid repetitive motions or overuse of certain joints and take frequent breaks.
- Use pads or cushions to support your joints if you put a lot of pressure on them.
- Maintain a healthy weight or lose weight if you are overweight.
- Warm up before starting exercise or sports practice.
- Strengthen the muscles that support your joints.
- Stop when you feel pain. Don’t try to “walk it off.”
Bursitis is a type of inflammation that happens in your joints. Symptoms can be painful, but it is not usually serious. The condition usually lasts a short period and improves with proper care.
Talk to your health care provider or a Banner Health specialist if you’re experiencing bursitis symptoms and find some relief for your pain.