Last reviewed on 16 January 2024 by Danniel Jacques (B.Med.Sci UNSW)
What is Bursitis?
Bursitis is the irritation and inflammation of a bursa. A bursa is a small lubricated balloon like sac found throughout the body. These sacs help bones and tendons to articulate and glide over each other by reducing friction and irritation.
The bursae contain a small amount of lubricating fluid within them known as ‘synovial fluid’. These sacs are located around joints and other moving parts of the body, such as the shoulder, elbow, foot, hip, knee and ankle.
The bursae act like cushions while also reducing friction between sliding tendons and bones. Occasionally a bursa will be subjected to ongoing stress or a sudden trauma. When this occurs it usually results in an inflamed bursa that fills with fluid. This condition is known as BURSITIS and can be the cause of considerable discomfort and pain.
What Causes Bursitis?
There are a number of possible causes of bursitis and these include overuse and repetitive strain, a sudden impact injury, several autoimmune diseases as well as other disorders. In many cases there will already be pre-existing age related degenerative changes in the joint that make an individual more susceptible to inflammation and subsequent episodes of bursitis.
There is an increased risk in developing bursitis for individuals working in some physical jobs or participating in regular sports. This is due to placing repetitive stress and strain on their joints, which increases their risk of developing bursitis. An example of this would be a carpenter developing knee bursitis or a golfer, elbow bursitis.
Identifying the cause of the bursitis is important as this may help with the treatment of the condition. For example, identifying the cause may allow you to eliminate or avoid an activity that initially led to the condition.
What Parts of the Body can Bursitis Affect?
- Shoulder Bursitis.
- Elbow Bursitis.
- Bursitis in the Wrist.
- Hip Bursitis.
- Knee Bursitis.
- Heel Bursitis.
- Bursitis in the Foot.
What are the Symptoms of Bursitis?
The signs and symptoms of bursitis can vary from individual to individual depending on the degree of inflammation and will normally include localised pain and tenderness.
An extremely inflamed bursa may also result in visible swelling that appears as a lump. Visible swelling is a particularly common symptom of both knee and elbow bursitis that may cause joint stiffness and extreme pain when weight or pressure is applied to that affected joint.
(Diagnosis of bursitis should always be confirmed by a qualified doctor prior to starting any treatment and will often require an ultrasound).
How is Bursitis Diagnosed?
It is always best to visit a qualified medical professional if you suspect that you have bursitis in order to get a proper diagnosis before starting any treatment.
While many areas of bursitis can be assessed by a physical and visual examination it is still best to have an ultrasound to properly confirm the diagnosis. Your doctor may also feel that additional images or tests, such as an MRI, X-Ray and/or blood tests, are required to rule out other possible causes or co-existing conditions.