Bursitis 101

What is Bursitis?

A bursa is a sac like structure filled with fluid that is found in several joints in the body. The bursa acts as a cushion between bones, tendons, and muscles within a joint. There are approximately 160 bursae within the human body. Each bursa is lined with synovial cells that produce a lubricant to help reduce friction in the joints, allowing ease of movement. When a bursa becomes inflamed, pain is experienced within a joint.


What causes bursitis?

Bursitis is most often caused by overuse injuries, in which repetitive motions place stress on the joints. Examples of activities that require repetitive motions include: running or walking long distances, shoveling, painting, scrubbing, gardening, golfing, and throwing. In addition, inflammation from conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, gout, or infections can predispose someone to bursitis. Finally, people with poor conditioning that are required to perform activities for long periods of time (such as walking long distances) are more susceptible to developing bursitis.


What joints does bursitis affect?

Bursitis can occur in any joint with a bursa. The elbow, shoulder, hip, and knee are common sites for bursitis.


What are the symptoms of bursitis?

Localized pain of the joint is the most common symptom. Pain may increase over time or may suddenly occur, and will typically increase with movement. Swelling and tenderness may also be present as well as loss of range of motion.


How is bursitis treated?

Often rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE principle) can be used to treat bursitis. In my opinion, ice is the single most important thing you can do on your own to reduce the inflammation of the bursa. Ice can be applied for 15 minutes every couple of hours. Ensure that there is a towel between the ice and your skin. I often tell patients to use frozen peas or corn that mold well to the affected area. Letting the joint rest is also very important. Ensure that your pain has decreased prior to returning to an activity that may have contributed to the bursitis. For example, if walking long distances may have contributed to the bursitis then I would suggest waiting until the pain has decreased substantially before attempting to return to your walking program. In addition, starting out slowly and gradually increasing the amount of time spent walking may help to prevent the return of your symptoms. Finally, compressing and elevating the joint may also help to reduce the swelling and inflammation.

Physiotherapy modalities, such as pulsed ultrasound, can also help to decrease inflammation within the joint. Your doctor may also prescribe specific medications such as an anti-inflammatory to help reduce the swelling. Please consult with your health care provider to determine an appropriate treatment plan for your bursitis.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Kristi Scott, B.Sc., M.Sc.P.T., CAFCI

Kristi is a Registered Physiotherapist. She joined her mother, Shirley Andrusiak, at Guisachan Physiotherapy after graduating from the Masters of Science in Physical Therapy Program at the University of Alberta in 2010. She also holds an Undergraduate Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Victoria. Since graduating Kristi has completed numerous continuing education courses including manual therapy, vertigo, sport first responder, and golf related rehabilitation.  She has also completed her training with the Acupuncture Foundation of Canada Institute, and is certified to perform acupuncture, holding a designation of CAFCI.

Kristi brings an energetic, exercise based approach to her practice. She focuses on client centered care, education, exercise prescription, and manual therapy techniques. 

You can contact Kristi by email at [email protected]




The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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