Bursitis: Affects Not Just for the Elderly
Although age does play a factor at times, athletes of any age can have bursitis for a number of reasons and in a number of different circumstances.
Because it is one of the more common injuries, there are a number of ways to prevent and treat it.
What is bursitis?
Bursitis is the inflammation of the bursa, a fluid-filled sac that provides cushioning for the bones, tendons, and muscles around your joints.
There are more than 150 bursae in the body, which are lined with cells that create a lubricant that alleviates friction and allows the joints to move smoothly.
With so many bursae, there are many different joints that are susceptible to bursitis although the shoulder, elbow, hip, knee, and ankle are the most common sites.
The symptoms of bursitis
Pain is the most common symptom of bursitis although the joint also can feel achy or stiff, may be tender to the touch or with movement and may be red and swollen.
Bursitis also can be caused by an infection—known as septic bursitis—and symptoms can include fever, redness and/or the joint and surrounding area feels hot to the touch.
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Causes of bursitis
Bursitis is considered an overuse injury and is more common in those who are 40 and older.
The physical demands of certain work conditions, hobbies or sports can increase the likelihood of developing bursitis.
Work that requires extensive kneeling such as carpet and tile laying, housework, and gardening; a hobby like playing an instrument; and sports like tennis, golf or baseball all feature repetitive motions that can cause inflammation of the bursa.
Maybe you’ve heard of “housemaid’s knee” or “tennis elbow?” Both are terms for bursitis that affect those particular joints.
A blow or injury to the joint also can cause bursitis.
Underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, gout, thyroid disorders, psoriatic arthritis or rheumatoid arthritis can increase the risk of bursitis. And being overweight can cause bursitis of the knees or hips.
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Home treatment of bursitis
If you have a mild to moderate case of bursitis, it can most likely be treated at home with a number of different modalities over a span of a couple of weeks.
- Rest—Bursitis responds well to resting the impacted joint as much as possible. Of course, this may be difficult if your job requires it, but try to limit the joint’s use or at least the range of motion of the joint.
- Ice—Icing the joint with a towel-wrapped ice pack or even a bag of frozen vegetables can reduce inflammation and swelling.
- Elevation—Keeping the joint elevated can decrease blood flow, which can reduce inflammation.
- NSAIDs—Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen at regular intervals can reduce swelling and alleviate some pain.
- Padding—Padding the joint can protect it from a potentially painful impact.
When to see a doctor
Most cases of bursitis can be treated at home over the span of a couple of weeks. More severe cases will require the attention of a medical professional.
Schedule a visit to your doctor if you don’t feel a noticeable improvement after two weeks; if the pain is debilitating; the joint is suddenly unable to move; you have sharp, shooting pain; you have excessive swelling or redness or a rash or bruising; or if you have a fever.
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How a doctor diagnoses and treats bursitis
At the appointment, a doctor will examine the painful joint and take a medical history that will include activities that might have caused bursitis.
If a fever is one of the symptoms, the doctor may take a fluid sample from the bursa to test for bacterial infection.
The doctor may order additional tests such as x-rays, MRIs, CT scans and possibly blood work to look for any underlying medical conditions that could make a patient more susceptible to bursitis.
If a fluid sample from the bursa indicates a bacterial infection, antibiotics will be prescribed.
If the bursitis is caused by repetitive motion or a blow to the joint, the doctor may recommend an injection of steroids to decrease inflammation. The use of steroids should be monitored closely as steroid use can raise the patient’s blood pressure and increase the likelihood of developing an infection.
He/she also may order a course of physical therapy during which patients will perform a range of motion and strengthening exercises.
Under extremely rare circumstances, the bursa may need to be surgically drained.
In addition to these options, the doctor will probably also recommend all or some of the treatment options for home care of bursitis listed above.
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Although bursitis is relatively responsive to at-home or professional medical treatment, the recurrence of bursitis is relatively common.
There are some things you can do to prevent bursitis in the first place or a recurrence after you have recovered. These preventive techniques include the following.
- Get moving!—Although the repetitive motion of some sports can increase the risk of developing bursitis, an exercise that increases muscle strength can offer protection for joints in general.
- Stretch it out—Warming up and stretching prior to exercise or any strenuous physical activity can help protect the joints from injury.
- Break time!—If you must do repetitive motion—during work, for example—incorporate regular breaks to give your joints a rest. For instance, if you are constantly kneeling, get up every now and then, shake out your legs and stretch if you need to.
- On an even kneel—If your work or hobby does require a lot of kneeling use a foam pad to cushion your knees from the hard surface.
- Uplifting—Lift with your legs, bending from the knees rather than the hips and back. Lifting with your legs lessen the chance you will put undue stress on the bursae of the hips.
- Rolling along—If your work or hobby requires heavy lifting, use a dolly or wheelbarrow when possible. Lifting heavy loads can exert extra pressure on the bursae of the shoulders.
- Weighty matter—As stated above, being overweight can create extra stress on the hips and knees, which can lead to bursitis.
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