10 Ways to Deal With Bursitis

the pain of bursitis
Bursitis is an unwelcome and uncomfortable ailment, but with the proper treatment and adaptations, you'll be feeling well in practically no time.

When something beneficial is taken to an extreme, it ceases to be good for you. It's true of just about anything -- even childhood action songs like "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes."

Sure, it starts out being fun and even gets the blood pumping, but thousands and thousands of choruses later, you may notice that your elbows are swelling, your buddy's shoulders have painful-looking bumps, and your neighbor's knees aren't working properly any longer. What could the problem be? Aside from the fact that you and your cohorts have the oddest of addictions, you're probably suffering from bursitis.


Bursitis is the painful inflammation of a bursa, a fluid-filled cavity designed to protect and lubricate your joints [source: University of Maryland Medical Center]. Bursitis can be caused by bumping or bruising, repeated pressure or -- in many cases -- overuse. And if you have bursitis, you already know this: It hurts.

The good news is, once you tone down your activity, the symptoms of bursitis begin to disappear. If you know the precise movement that's causing the pain, it's time to back off that activity, at least temporarily. The pain of bursitis may disappear completely after a few days of resting the affected joint. But this doesn't mean ceasing all movement, especially if the problem is in your shoulder. Immobilizing the shoulder can "freeze" the joint with adhesions (fibrous tissue) and scar tissue. Just take it easy and try to avoid the movement or activity that brought on the pain.

Here's how to speed your recovery along and get back to singing, dancing and whatever else floats your proverbial boat.

10: Get New Equipment

In some instances, you may be able to add or change the equipment associated with the activity causing your bursitis. For example, bursitis on the heel is usually caused by improperly fitting shoes. The solution is simple: Toss the shoes and put on a better-fitting pair.

A quarterback who is regularly being struck or bumped on the elbow may find that an elbow pad is all he needs to allow him to get back on the field. The housemaid mentioned in the sidebar could stand to invest in a set of knee pads. You get the idea. Your body does an amazing job of protecting itself, but when you are regularly asking it to adapt, you may need to make some adaptations yourself.


9: Beware of Infection

If you've decided to "tough it out" and push through the pain associated with bursitis, make sure you're not ignoring a more serious problem. It's common to feel warmth around the swollen area, but if you're running a temperature, you may have an infection -- in which case you should see a doctor.

In addition, if symptoms like swelling and soreness persist for a period of two weeks or more, it's time to consult a physician [source: Johns Hopkins]. Your body is trying to tell you something. If you ignore it, you're simply delaying an unwelcome, and perhaps more serious, outcome.


8: Make a Change

If you have bursitis on your elbow or your knee, change the activity that caused it -- such as leaning on your elbows while reading or crawling on your knees in the garden.

If you enjoy throwing long in the pick-up football game at the park, consider handing the ball off to your trusted running back or tossing a shorter pass to the tight end. Sure, you have some comfortable habits, but they're not altogether necessary.


You can read sitting up in a different position. You can place a padded mat in the area you're gardening or simply sit sideways next to the flower bed. Adaptation is the key.

7: Deflate the Inflammation

Take two 325-milligram aspirin tablets four times a day to reduce swelling associated with bursitis. Ibuprofen is another option (follow the directions on the label). But avoid these if you have kidney problems or if your doctor has told you to avoid aspirin because it upsets your stomach. Anti-inflammatory medications like Orudis or Voltaren can be prescribed by a physician [source: University of Maryland Medical Center].

Keep in mind that anti-inflammatory medications, either prescriptions or over the counter, are not intended to be taken over a long period of time. They're temporary remedies. Check with your doctor about aspirin and ibuprofen use if you're taking blood pressure medicine.


6:Put It on Ice

Ice brings down swelling by slowing the blood flow into the area. Leave an ice pack on the joint for about 20 minutes, or twice as long if your bursitis is deep in the joint.

Don't forget to protect your skin by putting a towel or cloth between the ice pack and bare flesh. Ice treatment works especially well for reducing discomfort and swelling during the first couple of days [source: Johns Hopkins]. Moldable ice packs, which are available at most pharmacies and drug stores, tend to be less messy and they more easily surround the affected area -- plus, they're reusable.


5: Warm It Up

You may be asking, "Didn't they just say to cool it down?" Yes, but after the initial swelling has been brought down, heat from a heating pad or heat pack will not only feel good but will get rid of excess fluid in the bursa by increasing circulation.

A little gentle massage can also achieve the same effect, but avoid massage if an infection is connected with your bursitis [source: University of Maryland Medical Center]. It's also recommended that you warm up the joint with some gentle activity before returning to the work or sport that is at the heart of your condition.


4: Get in the Swing of Things

Retaining range of motion in the joint is important, so certain exercises are a necessary part of bursitis treatment [source: University of Maryland Medical Center]. While most of these exercises should be prescribed by a doctor, there are a few that you can do on your own.

One effective exercise for bursitis in the shoulder is the pendulum swing. To do this exercise, bend at the waist, and support your weight by leaning your good arm against a desk or chair back. Swing your sore arm back and forth and then in clockwise and counterclockwise circles. A little exercise can prevent scar tissue from forming and keep the muscles from atrophying.


3: Don't Shrug Off Shoulder Pain

Don't be too quick to label your shoulder pain as bursitis, especially if your condition doesn't improve after a few days of rest. There are many conditions for which shoulder pain is a symptom, but absolutely none for which pain and swelling should be ignored.

A physical examination by an expert, usually followed by X-rays, is the first step in proper treatment. See a doctor if your shoulder pain is interfering with your everyday activities or your sleep. The same can go for other joints, too. While bursitis may be the most likely diagnosis, it's not the only diagnosis.


2: Take the Treatment Up a Notch

When ice, heat, rest and gentle movement fail to relieve pain and swelling, it may be time to pursue more aggressive forms of treatment. Your doctor may just give you an injection.

Corticosteroid drugs can be injected directly into the swollen area for immediate relief (sounds great, huh?), and you may only need a single injection to do the trick [source: Mayo Clinic]. In addition, your physician may prescribe physical therapy to strengthen the muscles surrounding the joint. Stronger muscles around the joint can work as shock absorbers and prevent the condition from reoccurring -- or at least from reoccurring frequently.


1: Going Under the Knife or Needle

If you've watched enough professional football in your life, you've undoubtedly seen a quarterback battling through a nasty case of bursitis. While quarterbacking the Kansas City Chiefs in the later years of his career, Joe Montana suffered from a grotesquely swollen elbow -- a recurring case of bursitis.

In such instances, a physician may choose to drain fluid from the bursa to reduce pain and allow for a fuller range of motion. In even rarer cases, your doctor may elect to operate on the joint and remove the bursa sac [source: Mayo Clinic]. The bursa sac serves a beneficial purpose, but when it becomes regularly inflamed and causes significant pain, removal is the best course of action.

Bursitis is an unwelcome and uncomfortable ailment, but with the proper treatment and adaptations, you can get back to singing "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" with the best of them.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • "Bursitis." University of Maryland Medical Center. (March 5, 2012) http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/bursitis-000022.htm
  • "Bursitis." Mayo Clinic. (March 5, 2012) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/bursitis/DS00032/DSECTION=lifestyle-and-home-remedies
  • "Bursitis." Johns Hopkins Medicine. (March 5, 2012) http://www.johnshopkinshealthalerts.com/symptoms_remedies/healthy_living/2335-1.html