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What Is Bursitis?

A bursa is a fluid-filled sac that helps cushion the muscles, tendons, and bones around a joint. When a bursa becomes inflamed, it’s called bursitis. Common symptoms of bursitis include pain, tenderness, and swelling that limits movement of the joint.

What Causes Bursitis?

Bursitis is most often caused by overuse of a joint. The repeated movements irritate the bursa and may cause it to swell. When that happens, other surrounding tissues may become inflamed or have less space to move. Bursitis is most common in large joints such as the knee, shoulder, and hip.

Inflamed bursa in kneeNormal bursa in knee

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Nonsurgical treatment involves both rest and exercise.

How is Bursitis Treated?

To help reduce pain and swelling, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following: 

  • Rest gives the bursa time to heal. This means limiting activities that put stress on the joint.

  • Anti-inflammatory medications help reduce painful swelling. In some cases, this can include injections of cortisone into the bursa.

  • Splints and support bandages improve your comfort and allow the bursa to heal.

  • Physical therapy may be used to increase flexibility and strengthen muscles that support the joint.

  • Aspiration removes excess fluid from the joint using a needle. This can help your doctor find out what is causing your bursitis. For example, it might be an infection or overuse. 

  • Surgery can be used to remove an inflamed bursa. This is rarely needed.

Online Medical Reviewer: Chamberlain, Kevin, DO
Online Medical Reviewer: newMentor board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 8/9/2013
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.