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By Sasha de Beausset Aparicio, MSc

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What is Bursitis

Bursitis is an inflammation of a soft, almost liquid tissue that is found all over the human body, which has the role of lubrication of the moving parts, for example tendons, muscles, and bone. The tissue is in the form of a small sack, called bursae, which can change in size by filling with liquid. The volume of the sacks determines how easily and smooth the movement between the parts is made, which in consequence is made much more difficult and painful when the disorder occurs, because of the increase in friction and pressure.


The main cause of Bursitis is repeated physical stress in the same areas where the bursae are located. This can occur not only to people at work places that involve a lot of manual work, but also in sports and even sitting at the desk. Repeated movement and stress over the joints during workout seem to be a very spread cause, but also sitting hours at an end with your elbows on the desk may also put pressure on areas where the tissue is located, which can lead to inflammation.

It seems that people who already have a chronic disorder related to the areas where the sacks are located are more prone to develop this inflammation, disorders like diabetes, endocrine illnesses, or arthritis.

One of the most common cases of Bursitis is induced by physical trauma, which initially causes a small amount of swelling and increase of pressure inside the sack, leading to more liquid being produced and a larger increase in pressure, and eventually to Bruxism.

Sometimes this illness can occur without any apparent reason or repeated stress; it depends on how the afflicted body is structured. In rare cases the disorder has been found to be developed because of an infection, if microbes or bacteria reach the fluid inside the sack.

Improper or unfit equipment may sometimes put pressure on the areas with sacks and cause inflammation, especially in the case of shoes, which can lead to much more severe complications if the work environment puts a lot of stress in large time spans. Also the feet are more prone to bacterial infections that may be hard to differ from the normal harsh work environment stress until it already manifested.

Signs & Symptoms

The symptoms vary according with the place of the inflammation. On areas like the elbows, knees, and other joints, swelling followed by a red irritation of the skin is the most common reaction. Also the patient may experience stiffness when trying to move the joints and so ordinary tasks may become more difficult.

All the types occur followed by a sharp pain, which can change from a local to a regional type of pain, depending on the stage of the disorder and the shape of the body. The pain will rise if the person continues to put pressure on the area or just stress it by normal movement or walking.

People who already have issues with their tendons and joints, usually a difference in size, will experience more severe symptoms which can lead to permanent muscle or joint damage. Sleep disorder may occur in certain stress conditions, caused mostly in cases where the pain is sharp and constant, which gradually gets worse as the person wakes up or moves.

Usually when the swelling occurs, there is a rise in the temperature on the spot where it started, and if it leads to fever it usually means that complications are starting to occur and medical aid is most certainly needed. In some cases no swelling appears or it seems to not be any, but irritation of the area followed by the specific pain still occurs.

Diagnosing Bursitis

In more severe or inconclusive cases, scanning the area using different equipment may aid to a faster diagnose. But if there are still doubts, liquid from the swollen area can be extracted and studied in the laboratory to determine the exact cause.

Less severe cases are studied through the history of the patient; the doctor usually evaluates the work conditions and lifestyle of the patient, to determine the repeated physical stress that he is exposing himself too and to see if also the areas that are stressed are the ones where the sacks with liquid are located.

Treatment for Bursitis

The treatment depends on the severity of the case, but it is very important to first determine exactly what that is, because some treatment methods can harm the patient if practiced incorrectly. For example, in less severe cases, rest of the area affected is recommended, but also for avoiding sleep pain and stiffness a small amount of movement is required, which is not recommended for infections or other severe cases.

Anti-inflammatory medication is prescribed in most cases, followed by cooling the area using ice and a slow massage. If the problem still persists and the liquid level rises, it usually is drained surgically and followed by antibiotics, which are prescribed if there are any earlier signs of infection.

Preemptive treatment is a plus for any person, if you find yourself doing daily repetitive tasks that put pressure on your joints, a brake after an hour followed by recreational movement or massage is recommended, especially for people who stay at a desk, which are more prone to rheumatic disorders that can severely damage the tendons if a complication like Bursitis occurs.
For people doing manual labor it is recommended that they don’t put too much pressure on the same area, for example if you work with your right hand try to use the other one, and alternate so that the stress is not continuous. And no matter what happens never cover the affected area with something tight, it will only stimulate the sack to produce more liquid and thus further damaging the area.

Regardless of the practiced work ethics, any activity that can cause this disorder has to be managed in one way, by limiting the overall effort or changing the work ethics. Left untreated, chronic bursitis can cause stiffness in the joint because of calcium deposits that form within the joint, while bacteria within the sack can become life threatening.