<< Back

5 Types of Bursitis and What You Can Do About Them

December 12, 2023

Bursitis can sound like an ominous diagnosis. And it can definitely disrupt your daily routine. But whether you want to get back to yoga or just walking up the stairs without discomfort, there is good news. “Bursitis is an issue for many people, and they worry it will stop them from doing activities they love,” explains Thomas McDonald, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the Bone & Joint Institute at Hartford Hospital. “But once we figure out the complex constellation of issues, we can give you a treatment plan. This will get better.” Here's a complete (and quick) overview of bursitis - what causes it and how to treat it. [insert-cta-small id=52874]

Bursitis is caused by inflammation - usually near your joints.

Bursitis is inflammation of the bursa, a small sac of fluid that provides cushion and lubricates areas where tissues like ligaments or muscles rub against each other. If you have bursitis, you'll likely feel a dull pain, tenderness and stiffness near the affected bursa. The skin may also be red and warm to the touch. Since most of of your bursae are located near major joints, that's often where you'll have pain, including in your:
  • Shoulder
  • Elbow
  • Hip
  • Knee
  • Achilles tendon or foot.
> Related: Why Do My Knees Hurt in the Morning?

Bursitis can be the result of an injury, or develop over time.

Some common causes of bursitis include:
  • Overuse and repeated movements. These can include keyboard typing, using tools, cooking and other daily activities.
  • Prolonged pressure on an area. For example, plumbers or roofers put weight on their knees for an extended time.
  • Gait mechanics, since people may walk in a way that contributes to bursitis.
  • Aging can make the bursa naturally break down over time.
  • Sudden injury.
  • Arthritis or infection (septic bursitis).
> Want more health news? Text StartHere to 85209 to sign up for text alerts

No matter where the bursitis is, treatment usually looks the same.

“We treat many of these soft tissue inflammation problems similarly,” says Dr. McDonald. “I always tell patients that there is a lot of science and a lot of anatomy, but there are only so many dials that we have to turn.” Bursitis treatment options may include a combination of things like:
  • Resting and icing the area.
  • Alleviating pressure-induced bursitis with cushions, supportive shoes or splints.
  • Adopting new ways to restrict/prevent repetitive motion.
  • Modifying your recreational activities (i.e., many runners become swimmers).
  • Taking oral anti-inflammatory medications for 2-3 weeks.
  • Starting physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around your joints.
If you have severe bursitis, your doctor might remove extra fluid from the bursa, inject medication into the site or recommend surgery.

Bursitis diagnosis starts with your doctor.

Treating bursitis is important, but so is addressing the root cause. “Bursitis is not just a single-point problem,” explains Dr. McDonald. “It’s often a biomechanical system problem that can involve surrounding weakness or alignment issues.” That’s why he says to see your doctor. “Our physical exam is crucial. We aim to dissect what's happening in the patient's life that has contributed to this inflammatory condition that's not settling down,” says Dr. McDonald. “Once we identify the problem, we can help you feel better.”