Bursitis Symptoms

Bursitis symptoms occur because of the tiny, fluid-filled sac known as a bursa being inflamed.


Bursitis primarily affects the bursa. The bursa, or bursae in the plural form, can be found in the muscles, tendons, skin, and bones near the joints. Their primary function is to act as a lubricant in these areas. They prevent excessive friction and rubbing in the areas mentioned to prevent irritation that may lead to bursitis. However, when inflammation occurs in the bursa, it loses its capability to provide lubrication which causes irritation. The bursa also becomes swollen which then results in increases of the friction being done causing the pain and irritation.

Causes of Bursitis Symptoms

Bursitis symptoms are commonly caused by an infection, such as a staphylococcal infection, crystal deposits such as in rheumatoid arthritis, and trauma.

Trauma is classified as either chronic or acute trauma. It is usually due to repetitive motions that cause an irritation to the bursa. Inflammation causes vasodilation or a widening of the walls of the blood vessels. This event causes extracellular fluid and proteins to enter the bursa. The bursa then recognizes these substances as foreign objects, thus causing the reaction within the bursa causing swelling.

Chronic bursitis is caused by minor trauma. This type of trauma is caused by repetitive motion. An example of this is best described by a baseball pitcher. A baseball pitcher repetitively uses the shoulder in throwing a baseball throughout a game. Another example would be a person who frequently kneels on hard surfaces which may cause damage to the kneecaps.

On the other hand, acute bursitis is caused by direct trauma. An example would be a person who suffers a fall which causes the knee to hit a hard object. This causes damage that can cause blood to be leaking into the bursa. The blood accumulating in the bursa causes swelling and pain in the affected area.

Infection is another cause of bursitis symptoms. Bursitis caused by microorganisms is known as septic bursitis. It is commonly caused by Staphylococcus bacteria such as Staphylococcus epidermis and Staphylococcus aureus. Patients undergoing the usage of steroids as well as alcoholics and diabetics are more likely to develop septic bursitis.

Diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, or gout (See: Gout Symptoms) may also cause bursitis. Although the process regarding how these diseases cause bursitis is not known. Abnormal metabolism of uric acid that causes gout is said to cause the uric acid to crystallize and accumulate in the joints which then causes bursitis symptoms.

Bursitis Symptoms

The main symptom of bursitis is tenderness and pain in the affected tendon or bone. The swelling in the bursa may limit movement. The joints of the elbow, shoulder, hand, foot, and knee are usually affected. The intensity of the pain increases with activity. A bursa located on the skin’s surface, such as in the elbows (See: Elbow pain) and knees, may result in redness that can be very much visible. The affected area may also feel hot in cases of inflammation. Muscle wasting may occur as well.

Bursitis Diagnosis

A diagnosis of bursitis consists of: a medical history, physical examination, X-rays, fluid removal, and blood testing. The physician may ask questions with regards to the symptoms being felt, when the symptoms started to appear, and how it started. The doctor may also ask questions with regards to past medical problems. The physician may also aspirate a couple of milliliters of fluid from the affected joint. The fluid is then sent to the laboratory for examination. This may help the physician identify if an infection is causing the inflammation.

Although X-rays don’t help much in the diagnosis of bursitis, the doctor may recommend them. This is to rule out other diseases that may cause joint pain such as fractures. CT scans and MRIs may also be utilized. Similar to X-rays, blood tests don’t usually help. It is done to rule out diseases such as hyperthyroidism (See: Thyroid symptoms) and rheumatoid arthritis.

Bursitis Management and Treatment

The treatment goals for bursitis are to reduce inflammation and prevent further injury. This can be achieved through the use of medications and through other interventions. To prevent further damage, it is recommended that the patient protect the affected area. Padding should be utilized especially in the affected area.

Rest is also an effective way to relieve the patient of symptoms such as pain. This may as well give time for the affected area to heal. Exercises, such as swimming, may also aid in the elimination of pain. One of the most effective pain relievers and anti-inflammatories is ice. Small ice packs are applied on the affected area for about five to ten minutes for at least two times a day to decrease inflammation.

Elevation and compression can help reduce the inflammation. The affected area should be kept elevated at least above the heart, and an elastic bandage should be applied to prevent the blood from accumulating in the affected area.

Another way to relieve bursitis symptoms is through the use of medications. Aspirin and Ibuprofen may be of help but should be used with caution. It is important to first consult a doctor.

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