Bursitis is inflammation of a bursa. A bursa is a thin, slippery piece of tissue that protects tendons. Tendons are the tissues that connect muscles to bones. The bursa reduces friction between the tendon and bone, allowing the tendon to glide easily over the bone.

There are many bursae in the body protecting underlying tendons. Bursitis most often occurs in the following joints:

  • Shoulder
  • Elbow
  • Knee
  • Hip
  • Ankle

Bursitis in the Shoulder

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Acute bursitis may be caused by:

  • A blow to an area containing a bursa
  • Overexertion of a joint (eg, swimming a long distance or throwing a ball many times)

Chronic bursitis is usually caused by long-term overuse of one muscle-tendon unit, for example a joint. The repeated motion of that muscle-tendon unit causes friction in the bursa. As the activity continues, the bursa becomes inflamed and may fill with fluid. The bursa thickens and does not function well. Both bursa and tendon may become irritated.

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Risk factors for bursitis include:

  • Repetitive motion activities when done to an extreme (such as swimming, running, or tennis)
  • Contact sports
  • Sporting gear that does not fit well


Symptoms of bursitis include:

  • Pain in the area of the bursa
  • Swelling
  • Reddened skin
  • Warmth around the area of the bursa
  • Decreased motion of the nearby joint
  • Decreased function of the nearby limb


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and your physical activities, and examine the painful area. You may have an x-ray.


Acute bursitis treatment may include some of the following:

  • Resting the affected area
  • Icing the painful area
  • Taking anti-inflammatory medications
  • Having a cortisone injection
  • Protecting the area from trauma

Treatment for chronic bursitis may include:

  • Stopping the activity causing pain
  • Taking anti-inflammatory medications
  • Protecting the bursa from trauma
  • Having physical therapy, including exercising and applying heat
  • Having a cortisone injection
  • Undergoing surgery


The following steps may help to prevent bursitis:

  • Do not overdo sports and other activities.
  • When doing a new activity, gradually increase the length of time you do it.
  • Make sure you perform activities correctly.
  • Wear protective pads if you play contact sports.


American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine


Canadian Orthopaedic Association

Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation


American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://www.aaos.org/ .

Human Tendons: Anatomy, Physiology, and Pathology . Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins; 1997.

Last reviewed October 2007 by Robert E. Leach, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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