A bursa is a fluid-filled sac that acts as a cushion between bones and tendons or muscles, to prevent these surfaces rubbing together and causing damage. Bursae are often found in the joints where they limit friction, distributing the stress of the joint movement and allowing it to move smoothly through a range of positions. The term bursitis refers to inflammation and swelling of the bursa, which usually arises from injury or repeated movement.
The symptoms of bursitis are similar to those seen in cases of inflammatory joint disorders. Typical features of the condition include:
- Pain in the form of a dull ache that tends to worsen with movement or pressure being placed on the affected area. Bursitis may take a long time to develop and may only start to manifest after repeated injury or overuse of a joint, for example.
- The whole joint may be tender or painful to touch.
- The affected area may be swollen and warm to the touch.
- Movement in the affected joint may be minimized. It may not be possible to fully flex (fold) or extend (straighten) a joint that is affected by bursitis.
- Stiffness in the joint is also common.
- Skin in the region of the bursa may be red and inflamed.
- Patients with septic bursitis or infection of the bursa may have additional symptoms such as high fever (temperature of 38ºC or above), chills or shivers. In cases of septic bursitis, there may also be evidence of skin infection or cellulitis.
- Common sites affected include:
- Ankle bursitis is common among athletes, runners, walkers and skaters.
- Sometimes referred to as “housemaid’s knee” or “clergyman’s knee,” bursitis in the knee may be caused by kneeling for extended periods.
- Hip bursitis can affect those who sit on hard surfaces for prolonged periods.
- Shoulder bursitis may affect javelin throwers or those who lift objects overhead for long periods.
- The elbows are prone to bursitis in hockey players, athletes and dart players.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc