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Bursitis is inflammation of the bursa, which affects nearby joints. The condition can cause a significant amount of pain. 

What is the bursa?

Bursa are fluid-filled sacs that decrease friction around joints and are found all over the body.  Bursa lie between the bone or ligaments and the muscle or tendons to provide cushion and prevent these structures from rubbing together. Bursitis pain relief is possible when inflammation in the bursa is reduced.


Shoulder anatomy with image of bursa.


What Causes Bursitis?

The first step to finding bursitis relief is knowing what causes it. The bursa are always involved, but what causes hip bursitis may or may not be the same as what causes shoulder bursitis. The bursitis causes that are most common include:

  • Movement dysfunctions such as repetitive, poor body mechanics that cause increased strain on structures of the body. 

  • Blunt trauma such as falling on the bursa.

  • Infection, inflammatory conditions, or rheumatoid arthritis

  • Constant pressure, for example, the olecranon bursa is located on the elbow and if you constantly lean on your elbows, you could cause the olecranon bursa to become inflamed. 


Bursitis Symptoms

Typically, bursitis symptoms are similar in different areas of the body. For instance, bursitis knee symptoms and shoulder bursitis symptoms can both include joint stiffness in the affected area. Other common bursitis symptoms include:

  • Achy joints

  • Joint pain

  • Swelling around the joint

  • Redness around the joint

  • Inability to move the joint


Most Common Types of Bursitis Pain

Pain is one of the most common bursitis symptoms. Depending on which bursa is affected, a person can experience:

  • Elbow Bursitis Pain

  • Bursitis Shoulder Pain

  • Hip Bursitis Pain

  • Bursitis Ankle Pain

  • Bursitis Foot Pain

  • Bursitis Knee Pain


If the joint pain is affecting your movement, or is disabling and impacts your quality of life you should schedule an appointment with a specialist. 

How is Bursitis Diagnosed?

Patients that exhibit bursitis symptoms will need to schedule an exam with a physician or physical therapist. At the exam one or more of the following diagnostic procedures may be used:

  • Clinical presentation means without the use of imaging such as x-ray or MRI.  Clinical presentation is based on reports from the patient and inspection from the healthcare provider.  Bursitis diagnoses are based on clinical findings such as redness, swelling, pain location and warmth in the area.  

  • X-Ray is used to rule out other causing factors and is reserved for those who are not responding to treatment.  X-rays are generally not taken during initial complaints of bursitis since bursitis alone will not be detected on an x-ray.  If calcium deposits have formed in the bursa, these calcium deposits will show up on the x-ray image. 

  • MRI is also used to rule out some bursitis causes and is reserved for those who are not responding to treatment. An MRI will show the presence of increased fluid in the sac but these findings can also be concluded through the patient’s clinical presentation. 

  • Aspiration is withdrawing some of the fluid to test for infection, but this is also usually not done initially as the majority of bursitis conditions are not caused by infection. 


Can Bursitis be Cured?

A cure for bursitis is possible depending on the cause. Bursitis that is caused by infection is one example. When infection is the cause, medications can be used to get rid of the infection and inflammation in the bursa will decrease.


Bursitis Treatment

The majority of bursitis cases are due to a movement dysfunction. Identifying the movement dysfunction is the first step in finding the best treatment for bursitis. Movement dysfunctions differ from person to person and bursitis treatment must be tailored to the specific findings of each individual.  

NSAIDS and corticosteroid injections have risks associated with them and will only temporarily address the pain symptom. These medications will not address the movement dysfunction. If the pain is masked, you’ll continue to move in dysfunction and this could cause further breakdown and damage while prolonging healing.

The physical therapists at Apex Manual Therapy are movement experts who can identify and treat movement dysfunctions that cause bursitis. Correcting the movement dysfunction allows the bursa to return to its normal function, decreasing friction between surfaces.  


Get Bursitis Relief - Schedule a Free Consultation With an Apex Physical Therapist


Shoulder anatomy with image of
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