Your body has little sacs filled with fluids called bursa (or bursae). They are made of a white, fibrous tissue and are found at almost every major joint of the human body. Bursas perform a very important function: they make sure that the muscles and tendons in joints slide effortlessly and without friction across bone. Simply put, the bursa functions as a smooth surface between two objects in your body moving in different directions. Without the bursa, every movement you make would be painful.
What happens when the bursa gets inflamed? It loses its capability to allow things to glide, since more friction is caused by the added bulk of trying to function in a limited space. Also, the bursa becomes rough and gritty, adding more friction. The result is an irritating and sometimes intense pain when you move the affected joint, sometimes coming in the way of your daily life. Such is the condition called bursitis, and while rarely serious, it does tend to become more annoying as it progresses.
Causes of Bursitis
Bursitis happens when there is repetitive movement or excessive pressure, or just simple overuse of your body’s joints. Due to activity, bursitis most often develops in your elbows and knees. They are also the parts that are exposed to everyday pressure, like when you rest on your elbows, or when you do household activities that require you to kneel down; in both cases, you apply pressure on the joints. Shoulders are also a prime candidate for bursitis attacks, as many human activities and leisure involve the action of shoulder joints and muscles, such as golfing, washing the car, or raking leaves. Though rare, scoliosis can also contribute to the formation of bursitis on the shoulders.
Another cause of bursitis is traumatic injury, like a car accident or a bad fall. In such cases, the contusions incurred will cause swelling in the bursa, initiating irritation when the bursa no longer fits in the small space between the bone and the internal functionary. When the bone starts exerting pressure on the bursa, bursitis develops.
If you are suffering from bursitis, you will first experience a dull feeling of stiffness and ache in the affected joint. The pain will worsen as you increase pressure or move it, as well. You will also notice a swelling or tenderness on the affected area, sometimes with the occasional redness of the skin. Most people will often misdiagnose bursitis with arthritis, and it is understandable as both often manifest themselves as pains on joints. However, since arthritis is a rheumatic problem, the patient tends to show symptoms affecting other parts of the body aside from the joints. To be on the safe side, get diagnosed by a physician.
Bursitis symptoms usually go away in a couple of weeks with proper treatment. During that time, there are several things you can do to minimize the pain.
Minimizing Bursitis Symptoms
Avoid putting stress on or doing any excessive activities with the affected body part. Bursitis is the cause of your bursa being subjected to pressure and strenuous activities, resulting in literal wear and tear. Putting more pressure and activity on the affected area is practically begging for its permanent damage. Try to put a brace or any elastic bandage around the joint to minimize any unnecessary action in the area.
However, decreasing activity does not mean you completely stop the area from moving. Like most machines, you need to keep the joint supple; otherwise, it will decay from lack of use. Your doctor or therapist can give you a range of specific exercises to keep your joints working without exacerbating your condition. You can also perform several exercises on your own, like the pendulum swing, for example. Bend at the waist and lean against a desk or a chair. Swing the affected part of your body back and forth and then in both a clockwise and counter-clockwise motion.
Apply ice packs on the swelling. Putting an ice pack on the affected area will slow down the flow of blood, bringing the swelling down. By minimizing the swelling, the bursa can get back to its normal state and function. Use the ice packs for about 20 minutes (double it if the bursitis is particularly deep) several times a day, or for as long as you feel the joint is warm to the touch. To protect your skin, you can try placing a cloth or a towel between it and the ice pack.
Use heat compress once the swelling’s gone down. After the swelling has gone down and the joint is no longer warm to the touch, use a warm compress to promote circulation, ridding the bursa of excess fluid. The compress will also relieve any muscle stiffness and joint pain. Don’t overdo it, though; the heat shouldn’t be applied for more than 20 minutes at a time. Use moist heat instead of dry heat, as the former tends to absorb deeper into your body than the latter.
Take anti-inflammatory medications. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and aspirin can help decrease the swelling and inflammation of your bursitis problems. NSAIDs include the more common Ibuprofen, Naprosyn, Motrin, and others. Make sure that you consult with your physician first for the proper dosage before you take these medications, even if they are over-the-counter. Your doctor will also be able to tell you if you need to avoid these medications due to other conditions like kidney or gastrointestinal problems. Also, don’t use acetaminophens. While acetaminophens are pain-relievers, they are not anti-inflammatory medications and as such, will not help bring the swelling down.
For bursitis that is not improved by normal medications and rest, a shot of cortisone injected directly at the site of inflammation can help. Cortisone is a very powerful anti-inflammation drug. Like the oral medications, you also need to consult with a doctor before taking this medication route.
Prevent It from Coming Back
There are cases when bursitis can flare up after being treated. To prevent it from coming back, there are several things you can do. For one, be sure to do some stretching exercises before doing any strenuous physical activities. Strengthening and stretching your muscles can help protect your joints. Also, take breaks from any repetitive tasks, especially if they involve special exertion on your joints. Breaks help your joints recover and de-stress. Also, be sure to cushion your joints if you need to put them under pressure, like kneeling or propping your elbows on hard surfaces.
If you have any history of arthritic conditions, addressing them will lessen the possibility of getting bursitis, as arthritis is also a joint problem. Do your best to avoid arthritic flare-ups and don’t engage in any activities that you know will cause bursitis.
Click here for more information on how to get rid of bursitis.