Arthritis, fractures, ligament tears, and cartilage damage can wreck your joints and land you in the doctor’s office. But what about bursitis? Do you need medical intervention when the bursa sacs around your joints become inflamed, or will the swelling subside on its own?
We’re glad you asked. At NEIL GHODADRA, M.D., we see many folks throughout West Los Angeles, California, with joint pain caused by bursitis. We’re glad for the opportunity to talk about this common joint problem and shed some light on its treatment options.
Bursae: The joint protectors
Bursae are small fluid-filled sacs covering your joints where muscles, tendons, and skin meet. They add a layer of cushion to absorb shock, and they provide lubrication to prevent friction. You have about 150 bursae throughout your body.
Bursitis occurs when the protective bursae become inflamed. The swelling causes pain and pressure in your affected joint and limits mobility. Symptoms include:
- A swollen joint
- Joint pain
- Joint stiffness
- Reddened skin over the joint
- A joint that feels warm to the touch
While bursitis can affect any bursa in your body, we see it most frequently in the shoulder, hip, elbow, and heel joints. Bursitis is named according to its location:
This type of bursitis affects your kneecap and makes it difficult to bend your leg.
This form of the condition affects the tip of your elbow, inflaming the surrounding tissues, stiffening the joint, and often forming small nodules that you can feel externally.
Trochanteric bursitis develops in your hip and often accompanies osteoarthritis.
This type of bursitis forms in your heel, making it difficult to stand and walk.
The two main causes of bursitis are injury and infection. You have a higher risk of developing bursitis if you:
- Play sports
- Kneel for long periods
- Squat frequently
- Rest your elbows on hard surfaces
- Lie on your side for long periods
- Run or jump repeatedly
- Wear ill-fitting shoes
Any minor trauma and repetitive movements that involve the bursae can lead to bursitis, as can infections that spread from other areas of your body.
How to treat bursitis at home
Acute bursitis may resolve on its own, but not without a bit of self-care.
Like all injuries, bursitis calls for serious rest, which means you need to take some time away from your sport and/or other activities that involve or aggravate the affected joint.
Icing your joint may also help by reducing inflammation and pain. Use a bag of frozen peas or wrap a bag of ice in a thin towel and apply the cold pack to your joint for 10-15 minutes. Do this twice daily for 3 days, and then alternate between cold and warm packs.
Take help from your medicine cabinet
You can temporarily flush away inflammation and pain with some help from your medicine cabinet. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil®) and acetaminophen (Tylenol®), are highly effective, and you probably have some in your medicine cabinet. But be careful — you may be tempted to overuse your joint when the medication kicks in, setting back your recovery.
Move, but with caution
The stiffness and pain will worsen if you keep your joint completely immobile. Gently take your joint through its full range of motion a few times each day to ensure it stays mobile and limber. You can add more exercises to the routine to strengthen the support muscles as you heal.
When to see a doctor for bursitis
These self-care measures may be all it takes to resolve acute bursitis within a few days or weeks, but if not, come see Dr. Ghodadra. Bursitis that doesn’t resolve with cautious care may indicate the need for professional care.
For example, you may need a round of antibiotics if you have septic bursitis caused by infection. Next-level treatments, such as corticosteroid injections and physical therapy, can also reduce your symptoms and restore function. In severe or chronic bursitis cases, Dr. Ghodadra may need to surgically drain or remove the affected bursa.
Don’t let bursitis sideline you. Get professional treatment from Dr. Neil Ghodadra, the board-certified orthopedic surgeon trusted by professional athletes and scores of patients throughout Southern California. Call today to schedule an appointment.