Wherever the bones, tendons and ligaments move against each other, particularly near joints, small fluid-filled sacs called bursae cushion the points of contact. Bursitis is an inflammation of a bursa, and is usually caused by overuse of a joint, or when a joint is under pressure or tension for extended periods of time.
The inflammation of a joint is most commonly caused by misuse or overuse of the joint. Bursitis can also be caused by trauma in the area of the bursa or by adjacent tendons. Repeated physical activities, such as swinging a golf club, can cause bursitis. The condition commonly known as ‘housemaid’s knee’ results from inflammation of the bursa on the front of the knee caused by repeated sweeping while kneeling. Infection or other conditions, such as arthritis or gout, cause inflammatory changes in the joints and tendons throughout the body that can involve the bursae. This type of injury may be accompanied by reduced mobility in the joint, redness, swelling and, occasionally, fever.
One of the most common areas for bursitis is the shoulder, which has the greatest range of motion of all the body’s major joints. The pain is usually felt along the outside top of the shoulder. Other joints commonly affected by this condition are the elbows, hips, wrists, ankles and knees.
Your doctor will ask about your recent physical activities and will conduct a physical examination. Occasionally, they may also want to extract some fluid for testing, if there is concern the bursa might be infected. You may be sent for X-rays of the painful joint.
What you can do if you have bursitis.
The main complication of bursitis is an infection of the bursa. As the bursa is frequently just under the skin it can also be affected by some types of skin bacteria. This requires antibiotic treatment, and sometimes drainage.
Last Reviewed: 18 May 2009