The most common causes behind bursitis include repetitive positions or motions responsible for irritating the bursae surrounding the joint. For example, leaning on the elbows for a long period of time, throwing a ball or lifting an object over the head repeatedly, kneeling extensively or sitting for prolonged periods of time on a hard surface can all cause this condition. Some of the bursae, such as those around the knee and elbow joints, are directly below the skin and are at a much higher risk of injuries that lead to bursitis including puncture injuries, which can cause septic bursitis or bursae infection.
Inflamed bursae can become infected. This is why bursitis needs to be treated promptly. Although it is not dangerous on its own, infected bursae can be a serious complication, which can lead to long term or permanent damage of the joint. Seeking medical assistance for bursitis is especially important if there is an open wound, redness or increasing warmth in the area of the bursae.
The symptoms of bursitis can include: inflammation, pain, swelling in any of the joints such as the elbows, shoulders, hips and knees. Motion that is restricted or difficult is also a symptom in all joints and can be followed by immediate pain in the area. Another common bursitis symptom is muscle weakness that seems chronic and is unusual. Joint pain that is not relieved easily and is returning is a major symptom of bursitis.
For some cases of bursitis, a physician can make the diagnosis based on patient history and a brief physical examination. If the physician suspects that something else may be the cause for the swelling, then lab tests or imaging tests may follow. X-ray images cannot establish a bursitis diagnosis, but they can help to rule out other potential causes for swelling. Lab tests are also beneficial for pinpointing the exact cause behind joint pain and inflammation.
The best course of action is to first stop the motions that are causing the flare up and rest the area by minimizing use. In some cases, physical therapy may be warranted in conjunction with some medications for discomfort. Ultimately, the treatment for bursitis will typically involve conservative measures like using ice, resting and taking a pain reliever. If these conservative measures are not getting results or if there is a bursitis infection, then treatment may go on to include prescription medication such as antibiotics, physical therapy, corticosteroid injections or surgery. Surgery is recommended when the inflamed bursae needs to be drained surgically. However, this is a rare complication of the condition.