The odds are good that it’s happened to you at some point: You bend your elbow, twist on your hip, or rotate your shoulder and feel a pain you can’t explain. Of course, we all get sore, but sometimes, that soreness can indicate something worse.


Bursitis involves inflammation of the bursae, small, slippery, fluid-filled sacs that cushion the bones, joints and tendons—like airbags for your joints.

The bursae reduce friction and provide smooth, painless movement at joints, bones, tendons and muscles around the shoulder, elbow, hip, knee, buttocks and heel. The body contains about 140 bursae.

When the bursae can become infected or inflamed, you have developed bursitis.

Some types of bursitis:

  • Retromalleolar tendon bursitis occurs when the bursae in your Achilles tendon become infected
  • Posterior Achilles tendon bursitis impacts the bursae that connect your calf and heel muscles
  • Hip bursitis
  • Elbow bursitis
  • Knee bursitis
  • Kneecap bursitis

Injury or overuse are the two most common ways bursitis or bursa inflammation occurs. However, there are other ways it can occur; for instance, bad arch support or ill-fitting shoes can result in retromalleolar tendon bursitis. In addition, engaging in repetitive tasks— like scrubbing or hammering— can overstrain your joints and result in the development of bursitis.

Unfortunately, individuals who suffer from certain chronic conditions are more likely to develop bursitis than others. These include people who have arthritis, tendonitis, gout or diabetes.

While arthritis and bursitis are both joint disorders, arthritis damage is permanent, while bursitis is usually a short-term condition.


The symptoms of bursitis can vary depending on the bursae that are inflamed. However, the most common symptoms are loss of movement and joint pain, particularly when you move the affected joint. However, that is also a symptom of many other issues or injuries, so it’s important to see your doctor.

Another common symptom of bursitis is swelling of the affected joints or muscles. The area may also appear red, swollen or feel warm. If there is an infection, you may develop a fever. If that is the case, you should seek immediate medical attention.


Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask a few questions about your activity level and when you first noticed the pain. They may also perform a series of diagnostic tests, such as an x-ray or ultrasound, to rule out other issues and determine the cause of your pain.

If there is an infection, the doctor may take a sample of blood or bursae fluid to determine the type of infection.


There are many methods of treatment, depending on the affected area. While knee bursitis, hip bursitis and shoulder bursitis have slightly different treatment modalities, they all come back to the same basic treatment program.

The most common treatment is rest, which can be frustrating or difficult depending on a person’s activity level or job. However, rest is the best way to ensure that the joint fluid can recover and that the other related muscles and tendons will not become irritated.

If there is significant pain, your doctor may recommend splints or slings to limit mobility and provide additional support for the affected area.

In addition, the area should be iced and elevated whenever possible. Over-the-counter pain medications, such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen), may help reduce pain and swelling.

In some cases, more serious treatment methods may be necessary, including:

  • Antibiotics to fight off infection.
  • Physical therapy to reduce pain, restore function, improve strength, and restore movement.
  • Corticosteroid injection to reduce inflammation.

In more extreme cases, surgery may be necessary to remove excess fluid or repair the bursae. In addition, your doctor may remove the bursae if an infection is acute.


There are steps you can take to reduce the odds of having bursitis:

  • Wearing proper equipment before engaging in any sports activities
  • Slowly starting a new workout routine or sport to avoid injury. Speak with a trainer or expert about the best way to ease into a workout routine and concentrate on developing the proper technique to reduce the odds of injury.
  • Receiving proper treatment for chronic diseases such as diabetes or arthritis.
  • Using cushioning to reduce the impact on your joints if you must constantly bend your knees or lean on them.
  • Keeping your weight down can reduce the burden on your joints, leading to better overall joint health.
  • Taking breaks if you are working your muscles or joints more strenuously than you normally do.

If you have pain or swelling in your shoulder, elbow, hip, knee, buttocks or heel, you may have bursitis or another condition. Please call (978) 794-1946 or (603) 898-2244 immediately to schedule an appointment or take advantage of our walk-in clinic in Haverhill and Andover Monday – Friday 8am-12pm and 1pm-3pm.

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