Bursitis often responds well to home treatment
By: Dan Palmquist, MD
It may have started out as a friendly pick-up game of football, basketball, softball, volleyball or hockey with your buddies, but here you are – in pain – three days later. Your knee is swollen to twice its normal size; it’s stiff and sore, making it difficult to walk.
You had something similar happen last year – to you elbow – after a weekend spent raking the yard, so you have a good idea what’s ailing you. It’s your bursitis acting up again.
Bursitis is the inflammation or irritation of the bursae, tiny sacs filled with lubricating fluid located near joints between tendon and skin or tendon and bone. Under normal conditions, the bursae serve as a gliding surface, decreasing rubbing and friction between bones and tendons and muscles. There are 160 bursae in the body. The major bursae are located near tendons of large joints such as the shoulders, elbows, hips and knees.
Bursitis is often caused by repetitive, minor impact to the affected area or from a sudden, acute injury. There are certain factors that increase your risk for developing bursitis. One of these is age. Your risk for developing bursitis increases as you get older, as tendons become less elastic and are more likely to tear. Complications from other conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, obesity, gout or diseases that impair your immune system can make you more prone to bursitis. Certain jobs or sports that require regular and repetitive use of a certain joint can lead to bursitis.
Most often bursitis affects the elbow, shoulder, hip, knee and Achilles tendon. It can be acute (short-term) or chronic (ongoing).
The most common symptoms are pain, stiffness, swelling, redness and warmth. The pain may develop gradually, or it can be sudden and severe. If pain occurs, stop what you are doing and rest. You can try the activity again later, but if pain recurs, stop what you are doing immediately and rest the painful joint. Ignoring the symptoms of bursitis can make the condition worse and cause it to become chronic.
The pain and other symptoms of bursitis typically respond well to home treatment, including compression. Wrapping the injured area can help to reduce swelling. Elevate the injured areas if possible. Apply ice to the injured area for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. You can repeat this every hour if it helps to relieve pain. Over-the-counter, anti-inflammatory medications can also reduce swelling and pain.
Range of motion exercises can help prevent stiffness to the joint. Gently move your joint through its range of motion. Move only to the point where you are not experiencing pain. Gradually increase your movement as the joint stiffness decreases. As the pain goes away, continue range of motion exercises and add other exercises to strengthen the muscles around the joint.
Gradually resume activities, being careful not to stress the affected area. Warm up and stretch before activities. Increase activity levels slowly. Stop if pain returns.
If your pain is severe and interferes with normal daily activities or if it lasts for longer than two weeks, you should call your doctor, He or she can prescribe a treatment regimen than may include prescription medication and or an injection of a corticosteroid. You should also call your doctor if you have a fever or extreme shooting pain. These symptoms could indicate a more serious condition including an infection known as septic bursitis.
The outlook for most people with bursitis is excellent. Bursitis is usually temporary and responds well to rest and at-home treatment. Listen to your body. If you feel pain and experience the symptoms of bursitis, stop what you are doing and rest. When you do resume activities, do so gradually. Bursitis might sideline you for a short time, but by listening to your body and responding to painful symptoms, you can sideline bursitis and be back in the game before you know it.