A healthy bursa is a thin jelly-like sac that forms a cushion in your joints where bones meet soft tissue — the muscles, tendons or ligaments. Bursae minimise rubbing between these surfaces, making movement easier.
You have around 160 bursae in your body and any one of them can become inflamed; those most often affected are in your:
Bursitis happens when these cushions become enlarged (inflamed) for some reason. Rotator cuff injury can lead to bursitis.
Treatment for bursitis involves protecting the affected joint from more damage and resting it. With treatment, bursitis pain usually goes away in a few weeks. However, flare-ups are common.
The most common bursitis symptoms (or warning signs) are:
If the swelling doesn’t go away, your joint may become stiff — this can lead to muscle wastage.
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See your doctor if your bursitis symptoms get worse or don’t improve after a couple of weeks.
Make an appointment if you have:
Bursitis is commonly caused by repetitive movements or positions that apply pressure on the bursae around a joint, such as:
Other causes include:
However, in many cases, the cause of bursitis is unknown (idiopathic).
You can’t always prevent bursitis, but you can reduce the risk of a flare-up by:
Bursitis can affect anyone but there are several risk factors:
Bursitis treatments include some simple things you can do yourself:
If the swelling doesn’t go away in a couple of weeks, see your GP.
Your GP may advise treatment with:
Bursitis treatment doesn’t usually include surgery.
In some cases, a steroid injection may be given by your GP or at hospital. A steroid injection won’t cure your bursitis but should reduce inflammation and pain for a couple of months. Steroids can have side effects so your doctor will discuss these with you and decide whether it's right for you.
For severe or recurring bursitis, surgery may be needed to drain the inflamed bursa, or in rare cases, remove it.
To reduce your risk of bursitis coming back, make sure you:
Try to avoid banging or knocking your joints and if you’re carrying out repetitive movements of your joints, take regular breaks.
What is the best way to treat bursitis?
Bursitis can usually be treated by resting the affected joint and if necessary, taking medication recommended by your GP. Surgery is usually not needed. To treat your bursitis there are some simple things you can do yourself:
Elevate — keep the swelling level with your heart if possible
Ice — take an ice pack (or similar) wrapped in a tea towel, put this on the swelling for about 10 minutes and repeat regularly every few hours
Medication — use over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, if advised by your GP (eg ibuprofen)
Rest — don’t move or exercise your joint too much
If your bursitis does not go away after a couple of weeks, your GP may recommend treatment with:
Antibiotics — when the cause is an infection
Further rest — when the possibility of infection has been ruled out
High-dose non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) eg ibuprofen
In some cases, your GP may recommend a steroid injection to reduce your inflammation and pain for a couple of months. For severe or recurring bursitis, surgery may be needed to drain the inflamed bursa, or in rare cases, remove it.
What causes bursitis to flare up?
Bursitis can be caused by repetitive movements or positions that apply pressure to your joint — activities that involve doing this can therefore trigger a flare-up. Flare-ups are also more likely if you’re overweight as this applies more pressure to your joints, and if you incorrectly lift heavy weights without bending your knees. Losing weight, lifting heavy weights correctly and strengthening your muscles can all help prevent flare-ups.
How long does bursitis last?
With treatment, bursitis usually lasts a few weeks. If your bursitis doesn’t improve in this time or gets worse, see your GP
What happens if you leave bursitis untreated?
Bursitis leads to swelling of your affected joint, which can cause it to become stiff and difficult to move. Without treatment, this can lead to muscle wastage.
What foods should you avoid if you have bursitis?
In cases where bursitis is caused by rheumatoid arthritis or gout, certain foods should be avoided to reduce the symptoms associated with these underlying conditions.
For gout, foods and drinks high in the substance purine should be avoided, such as alcohol, beer, organ meats, red meats and seafood — high-purine vegetables do not worsen gout and can be eaten. Food and drinks rich in fructose should also be avoided, such as sugary fizzy drinks, fruit juices, honey and agave nectar.
For rheumatoid arthritis, foods that can worsen inflammation should be reduced or avoided, such as fried and processed foods, ready-meals, high-sugar foods such as cakes and sweets, and foods containing corn oil.
How do you get rid of bursitis naturally?
Bursitis can, in some cases, be treated without medication or surgery. To treat your bursitis naturally, you can do some simple things yourself.
Elevate your swelling so it is level with your heart if you can do so comfortably. You can also apply an ice pack, wrapped in a clean cloth, to your swelling — keep it there for 10 minutes and repeat this every few hours. It is also important to rest your affected joint.