Bloomington / Normal, IL

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Beating Bursitis


Submitted by Orthopedic & Sports Enhancement Center

Almost everyone has joint pain at some point in their life. It can flair up suddenly. Or it can start off mild and get worse over time. A common cause of joint pain is bursitis. Bursitis happens when a bursa in a joint becomes inflamed.

A bursa is a small, fluid-filled sac that acts as a cushion between bones and other moving parts, such as muscles, tendons, or skin. You have about 150 bursas in your body. They keep joints such as your shoulders, knees, and elbows working smoothly. But they can be hurt by sudden or repetitive forces.

Bursitis often flairs up because of another injury. When an injury causes someone to move their joint differently than normal, it can irritate a bursa. For example, if you have a foot injury, it can change the way you walk. Maybe you don’t even notice it, but you limp a little. And that changes the way that forces from muscles and tendons pull on the bones. That subtle change can give rise to some inflammation in the bursa.

Bursitis can also be caused by putting pressure on a joint for too long, such as kneeling or leaning on your elbows. Activities that require repetitive motions or place stress on your joints—such as carpentry, gardening, playing a musical instrument, or playing a sport—can sometimes trigger bursitis. Rarely, a bursa may become inflamed due to an infection.

It can sometimes be hard to tell whether joint pain is caused by inflammation in a bursa or is caused by osteoarthritis. Both conditions have similar symptoms including aching pain, tenderness, stiffness, and swelling in the joint. Bursitis may come on suddenly and will usually get better with rest or conservative treatments whereas osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that gets worse over time. While bursitis is caused by inflamed bursa sacs that cushion the bones, the pain of osteoarthritis is caused by a breakdown in the protective cartilage at the ends of the bones, resulting in bone-on-bone contact. Lab tests and imaging often aren’t enough to pinpoint the source of the pain. A thorough hands-on physical exam, your medical history, and an evaluation of your activities and recent injuries is necessary to make a proper diagnosis.

Treatment for most simple cases of joint pain is similar, no matter what’s causing it. The goal of treatment is to reduce the amount of inflammation and may include rest; over-the-counter drugs that suppress inflammation; and gentle stretching and strengthening exercises. Physical therapy may help if bursitis has reduced your ability to move your joint or if it results in muscle weakness. It may be necessary to inject corticosteroid into the bursa or joint to help reduce inflammation and pain.

Bursitis and other causes of joint pain can be prevented by paying attention to how you move and perform daily activities. Bursitis is more likely to occur the older you get. To help prevent bursitis as you age, try to stay as active as possible, making sure to do activities that help you remain flexible and strong.

Tips to Prevent Bursitis

  • Cushion your joints when kneeling or putting pressure on your elbows.
  • Take frequent breaks from repetitive tasks.
  • Exercise regularly, but begin new activities or exercise routines slowly.
  • Strengthen muscles around your joints.
  • Stop activities when you first feel pain.
  • Use two hands to hold heavy tools.
  • Wear comfortable, properly fitting shoes.
  • Practice good posture and position the body properly when going about daily activities.

For more information on any orthopedic issue, including injuries and joint replacement, you may contact the Orthopedic & Sports Enhancement Center at 309-663-9300 or Their office is located at 2406 East Empire St. in Bloomington. The experienced medical team at OSEC includes J.Anthony Dustman, MD, Robert K. Seidl, MD, Bryce Paschold, DPM, Jeff Williamson, PA and Brad Cole, MSN, NP-C.