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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 3 minutes read

A bursa is a small fluid-filled sac that is located near your joints and acts as a cushion to the bones, muscles and tendons. When a bursa becomes inflamed the condition is called bursitis – and it leads to a red, swollen, painful and stiff joint. This is commonly diagnosed based on history and examination alone and no further investigation is usually needed. 

Commonly this inflammation occurs in the elbows, knees, shoulders and hips but you can suffer bursitis in any joint area of the body. Bursitis can be managed at home and usually subsides within a few weeks but it can reoccur again in the future.

Why does bursitis happen?

Repetitive movement is the most common cause of bursitis as this puts pressure on the bursae and can cause them to become inflamed. If you work or perform a lot of manual labour, or play lots of sports, you are more likely to develop bursitis.

Bursitis may develop after trauma, injury or infection. Other conditions such as inflammatory arthritis or gout can also cause it.

How can you manage bursitis at home?

If you know you have bursitis, then the most important thing you can do is to rest to avoid the area getting worse. Using a cool ice pack in the early days can also help reduce the inflammation, as well as taking an anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen, or simple painkillers like paracetamol to ease the pain. 

When should I see my doctor?

If you have a red, hot, swollen joint then you will need to see your doctor urgently. There are different causes of swollen joints, including some joint infections that may require urgent treatment. If you know you have bursitis, and the pain is not improving despite all the home management or you feel like your symptoms are worsening, then you should contact your doctor.

Severe sharp shooting pains, inability to move the joint, or an associated fever warrants you speaking to your doctor straight away to assess for any infection.

Your doctor may prescribe some antibiotics if there is a risk of infection or stronger painkillers and anti-inflammatories. If your symptoms are still not controlled then your doctor may refer you to a physiotherapist or specialist who can assess you and consider therapy, steroid injections, or in rare cases surgery.

Can I prevent it from happening?

There are certain things you can do to reduce your risk of developing bursitis. If you are at risk of repetitive motion injuries in any one of your joints, consider ensuring you have the correct protective clothing or support.

Try to ensure you lift heavy objects properly and avoid putting too much weight on any one joint in particular. It is important to take regular breaks to prevent overloading your joints, and stretch and warm up your muscles properly before exercising. Exercise is positive and helps to strengthen your muscles and maintain a healthy weight, which helps with general health and fitness but can also protect your joints from injuries such as bursitis.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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