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Bursae are fluid-filled sacs found in your joints. They surround the areas where tendons, skin, and muscle tissues meet bones. The lubrication they add helps reduce friction during movement.

Bursitis is an inflammation of the bursae. Inflamed bursae cause pain and discomfort in the affected location. They also limit the ways you can move your joints.

Types of Bursitis

There are several types of bursitis. These conditions may be chronic (meaning they occur on a regular basis) or acute (meaning they appear suddenly).

Prepatellar bursitis is inflammation around your kneecaps. It can be acute or chronic.

Olecranon bursitis is inflammation around your elbows. It is usually chronic. These bursae are located at the tips of your elbows.

Trochanteric bursitis occurs in the bursae of the hips. It can develop slowly. It may appear alongside other medical conditions, such as arthritis.

Retrocalcaneal bursitis may cause pain and swelling in your heels. It can be acute or chronic.

What Causes Bursitis?

The most common causes of bursitis are injuries or damage to the bursae. Damage may trigger pain, swelling, and redness in the location.

However, causes tend to be different for each type of bursitis:


Tears or damage to the kneecaps or bursae may cause swelling. Other causes are:

  • sports-related activities
  • bending the knees repeatedly
  • staying on the knees for long periods of time
  • infection
  • bleeding in the bursae


Repeatedly resting your elbows on hard surfaces can cause this type of bursitis. It can also be caused by infection.


Many things may trigger bouts of inflammation and pain in the hips. These include:

  • lying on the hip(s) for long periods of time
  • infection
  • injury
  • improper posture (sitting or standing)
  • any disease that affects the bones, such as arthritis


Running, jumping, or other repetitive activities can inflame the bursae in the heels. Beginning a strenuous exercise without properly warming up may also be a cause.

Who Is at Risk For Bursitis?

Risk factors for bursitis include:

  • having a chronic medical problem
  • participating in repetitive sports or activities
  • improper posture
  • getting an infection that may spread to the bursae, bones, and joints
  • injuries in the joints or bones near the bursae

What Are the Symptoms of Bursitis?

General symptoms of bursitis include:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • redness
  • fever accompanied by chills
  • thickening of the bursae
  • an abscess (localized infection) in the bursae

The different types of bursitis also have their own, specific symptoms.

With prepatellar and olecranon bursitis, it can be hard to bend your arm or leg.

Trochanteric and retrocalcaneal bursitis can cause difficulty walking.

Trochanteric bursitis can make it painful to lie on your hip.

Diagnosing Bursitis

Bursitis can often be diagnosed by physical exam. However, tests can also be used to diagnose this condition. An MRI can take images of the affected area. Blood tests and samples from the affected bursae can also be used for diagnosis.

Treating Bursitis

Some people with bursitis will be helped with rest, pain medication, and icing the joint. However, other treatments may be necessary.

Antibiotics can help rid your body of infections in or around the bursae.

Corticosteroids can be used to relieve pain, inflammation, and swelling.

Surgery can remove damaged bursae or drain fluids from the bursae.

Physical therapy may help relieve pain and other symptoms.

Long-Term Outlook of Bursitis

Your condition may improve with treatment. However, bursitis can become chronic. This may be more likely if your bursitis is caused by an underlying health problem that cannot be treated.

Talk to your doctor if pain or other symptoms do not improve with treatment.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Brindles Lee Macon and Elizabeth Boskey, PhD
Published on: Aug 16, 2012
Medically reviewed : George Krucik, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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