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Bursae are fluid-filled sacs found about 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 your bursae. Inflamed bursae cause pain and discomfort in the affected location. They also limit the ways you can move your joints.

What Are the Symptoms of Bursitis?

General symptoms of bursitis include:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • redness
  • thickening of your bursae

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.

Types of Bursitis

There are several types of bursitis. These conditions may be chronic, meaning they occur on a regular basis. Alternately they may be 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. The affected bursae are located at the tips of your elbows. It’s usually chronic.

Trochanteric bursitis occurs in the bursae of your 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.

Infectious bursitis is an infection in the bursa that causes the bursa to become red, hot, or swollen, and also results in chills, fever, and other symptoms of infection.

What Causes Bursitis?

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

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


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

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


Repeatedly resting your elbows on hard surfaces or a hard blow to the back of the elbow (olecranon) can cause this type of bursitis. It can also be caused by infection.


Many things can trigger bouts of inflammation and pain in your hips. These include:

  • lying on your hips for long periods of time
  • infection
  • injury
  • improper posture while sitting or standing
  • any disease that affects your bones, such as arthritis


Running, jumping, or other repetitive activities can inflame the bursae in your heels. Beginning a strenuous exercise without properly warming up may also be a cause. Shoes that are too tight in the back of the heel can make it worse as it rubs against the bursa.

Who Is at Risk of Bursitis?

Risk factors for bursitis include:

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

Diagnosing Bursitis

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

Treating Bursitis

Rest, pain medication, and icing your joint may relieve your bursitis. However, other treatments may be necessary:

  • Antibiotics are necessary in cases in which the bursa is infected.
  • Corticosteroids can be used to relieve pain, inflammation, and swelling as long as there is no evidence of any infection in or around the bursa.
  • Surgery can be used to 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 can’t be treated.

Talk to your doctor if your pain or other symptoms don’t improve with treatment.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Brindles Lee Macon and Elizabeth Boskey, PhD
Medically reviewed on: Feb 29, 2016: William A. Morrison 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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