Affecting over 8 million people in the United States, bursitis is the inflammation of one or more of the small, fluid-filled sacs, or bursae, that cushion the area of friction between bones, tendons and muscles near the joints. This condition is most often seen in the shoulder, elbow and hip; however, bursitis also occurs in other parts of the body, including the knee, Achilles tendon and at the base of the big toe.


Bursitis pain may build gradually over time, or it may be sudden and severe. This condition can also result in a loss of range of motion or mobility in the affected joints. Adults over the age of 40 are most commonly affected by bursitis.

Causes of Bursitis

In many cases of bursitis, the bursae become inflamed due to frequent repetitive movements, like throwing a ball, painting or shoveling. Remaining in one position for a prolonged period of time, such as leaning on the elbows or kneeling on the floor, may also cause the bursae to swell.

Some instances of bursitis result from a direct blow to a joint area or an infection of the bursa. Other medical conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, gout, thyroid disorders and diabetes, increase a person’s risk for developing this condition.

Bursitis Diagnosis

Bursitis is often diagnosed through a medical history of symptoms and a physical examination to determine the pain’s location and the affected joint’s range of movement. Imaging tests, such as an X-ray or MRI, may be ordered to exclude other causes of joint pain.

Blood tests can sometimes be helpful in diagnosis, as they can rule out infection and other underlying medical conditions. The doctor may also remove fluid from the affected bursae to have it analyzed for infection and to help pinpoint the cause of inflammation and pain in the joint.

Treatments for Bursitis

Resting the joint and keeping pressure off of the affected area, along with ice and bracing the joint with an elastic wrap or bandage, can help relieve the symptoms of this condition. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or, in more persistent cases, cortisone injections, may be used to decrease pain and swelling.

If the bursae are inflamed due to an infection, an antibiotic may be prescribed. The doctor may recommend physical therapy or strengthening exercises to prevent a recurrence.