What is Bursitis?
Medical Author: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR What is bursitis? How does a bursa become inflamed? How is bursitis diagnosed? How is bursitis treated? What is Bursitis?
Bursitis is inflammation of a bursa. A bursa is a tiny fluid-filled sac that functions as a gliding surface to reduce friction between tissues of the body. There are 160 bursae in the body. The major bursae are located adjacent to the tendons near the large joints, such as the shoulders, elbows, hips, and knees.
How does a bursa become inflamed?
A bursa can become inflamed from injury, infection (rare in the shoulder), or underlying rheumatic condition. Examples include injury as subtle as lifting a bag of groceries into the car to inflame the shoulder bursa (shoulder bursitis), infection of the bursa in front of the knee from a knee scraping on asphalt (septic prepatellar bursitis), and inflammation of the elbow bursa from gout crystals (gouty olecranon bursitis).
How is bursitis diagnosed?
Bursitis is typically identified by localized pain or swelling, tenderness, and pain with motion of the tissues in the affected area. X-ray testing can sometime detect calcifications in the bursa when bursitis has been chronic or recurrent.
How is bursitis treated?
The treatment of any form of bursitis depends on whether or not it involves infection. Bursitis that is not infected (from injury or underlying rheumatic disease) can be treated with ice compresses, rest, and antiinflammatory and pain medications. Occasionally, it requires aspiration of the bursa fluid. This procedure involves removal of the fluid with a needle and syringe under sterile conditions. It can be performed in the doctor’s office. Sometimes the fluid is sent to the laboratory for further analysis. Noninfectious shoulder bursitis can also be treated with a cortisone injection into the swollen bursa. This is sometimes done at the same time as the aspiration procedure and typically rapidly reduces the inflammation of the swollen bursa.
Infectious (septic) bursitis requires even further evaluation and aggressive treatment. The bursal fluid can be examined in the laboratory for the microbes causing the infection. Septic bursitis requires antibiotic therapy, sometimes intravenously. Repeated aspiration of the inflamed fluid may be required. Surgical drainage and removal of the infected bursa sac (bursectomy) may also be necessary. Generally, the adjacent joint functions normally after the surgical wound heals.
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