Hartford Hospital

Conditions In Full

Search for

Definition | Causes | Risk Factors | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment | Prevention


A bursa is a thin sac. It lies between bone and soft tissue near certain joints. A healthy bursa allows smooth movement of soft tissue over the bone. Bursitis is inflammation of a bursa. This inflammation can make it painful to move the nearby joint.

Bursitis occurs most often in the:

  • Shoulder
  • Elbow
  • Knee
  • Hip

Bursitis in the Shoulder

Nucleus factsheet image
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Bursitis may be caused by:

  • A blow to an area containing a bursa
  • Repetitive stress on the bursa
  • Infection in bursa
  • Long periods of pressure on joint—leaning on elbows, sitting or kneeling on hard surfaces
  • Medical conditions that cause inflammation in joints such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout

If the stress is not relieved, bursitis can become chronic (long term) condition. This can make permanent changes of the bursa.

Risk Factors

Factors that increase your chance for bursitis include:

  • Repetitive motion activities when done to an extreme (for example, swimming, running, or tennis)
  • Job that requires:
    • Repetitive motions such as hammering or painting
    • Long hours in one position such as a carpenter kneeling
  • Contact sports
  • Sporting gear that is too tight
  • Puncture or deep cut that involves bursa


Symptoms of bursitis include:

  • Pain in the area
  • Swelling
  • Reddened skin
  • Warmth around the area of the bursa
  • Decreased motion of the nearby joint
  • Decreased function of the nearby limb


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and your physical activities. The painful area will be examined. You may have an x-ray.


Bursitis treatment will focus on decreasing the inflammation and pain. The main step is to stop the activity causing the pain. You will be asked to rest the area involved and protect it from trauma. Your doctor may also recommend:

  • Applying ice to the area in the first few days
  • Anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen
  • Crutches or cane if knee or hip bursitis needs support

If the bursitis is very painful, your doctor may recommend a corticosteroid injection. These injections have short-term benefits and some risk. They may be limited to conditions that interfere with daily activities.

Chronic bursitis may need more aggressive treatment. Additional steps may include:

  • Physical therapy—sessions may include exercises and heat therapy
  • Surgery—only if all other treatments are not effective


The following steps may help to prevent bursitis:

  • Do not overdo sports and other activities.
  • When doing a new activity, gradually increase the intensity and duration of activity.
  • Make sure you perform activities correctly.
  • Wear properly fitting, protective pads if you play contact sports.
  • Use proper safety equipment at work.
  • Work with an ergonomic specialist to improve work related activities.

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons


American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine



Canadian Orthopaedic Association


Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation



Bursitis. Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center website. Available at: http://medicalcenter.osu.edu/patientcare/healthcare_services/spine_shoulder_pelvic_disorders/common_disorders_spine_sholder_pelvis/bursitis/Pages/index.aspx. Accessed January 3, 2013.

Elbow bursitis. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00028. Accessed January 3, 2013.

Hip bursitis. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00409. Accessed January 3, 2013.

Human Tendons: Anatomy, Physiology, and Pathology. Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins; 1997.

Prepatellar bursitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated September 5, 2012. Accessed January 3, 2013.

Last reviewed November 2012 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

CreativeChangePowered by: Creative Change, Inc.