By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Most cases of bursitis can be treated at home by resting the affected joint and taking pain relief. The pain associated with bursitis usually resolves within a few weeks, but the swelling can take longer.
Overall, the recovery time varies, according to which joint in the body is affected and whether or not the condition is caused by infection (septic bursitis). If septic bursitis is suspected, a sample of fluid may be drawn from the infected bursa using a needle (fine needle aspiration) and the sample sent to a laboratory to check for the presence of bacteria.
Some of the measures that may be taken in the treatment of bursitis include the following:
The joint should be completely rested, possibly even using a sling to immobilize the joint. Patients are advised to avoid any activities that will strain the joint and cause further pain.
Ice packs can be an effective way of reducing inflammation and pain. Ice wrapped in a towel should be applied to the affected area for 10-20 minutes every few hours.
Medications available over the counter such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can be effective at relieving inflammation as well as pain. Other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as naproxen or diclofenac may also be used.
If the swelling is particularly severe, the fluid may be drained to ease the pain and improve the patient’s range of movement.
For cases of septic bursitis, patients are prescribed antibiotics. Antibiotics will be taken in the form of capsules or tablets two to four times a day and examples include erythromycin, clarythromycin, and flucloxacillin.
For cases of bursitis that do not respond to other treatments, corticosteroid injections can administered directly to the affected area to provide relief from pain and inflammation.
In very severe cases, surgical removal of the affected bursa may be recommended, particularly in cases of nonresponsive septic bursitis. The bursa is either completely removed or drained via an incision made in the skin.
Physiotherapy can help a patient to develop strategies that reduce their risk of developing bursitis again. For example, people who have developed bursitis through straining at work nay benefit from ergonomically designed furniture and equipment, taking regular breaks and performing simple exercises for 10 minutes every hour. Patients with bursitis related to sports activities, may benefit from stretching before and after exercising.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: May 21, 2014