Inflammation of a bursa, one of the fluid-filled sacs located around joints

  • More common in adults
  • Occupations involving repeated stress on a joint are risk factors
  • Gender and genetics are not significant factors

Bursae act as friction-reducing cushions around joints. Inflammation of a bursa, called bursitis, may occur if it is put under prolonged or repeated stress. The bursa becomes tender and swollen, and movement of the joint is restricted.

The knee is most commonly affected, especially as a result of frequent kneeling, but the elbow or other joints may also be affected. Bursitis may also follow injury or unaccustomed exercise. Certain joint diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout, increase the risk of bursitis. Rarely, the condition is due to a bacterial infection.

Your doctor will probably diagnose bursitis from a physical examination. Treatment includes resting the affected joint. Your doctor may also recommend a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug and application of ice packs. However, if symptoms persist, he or she may drain the bursa and inject it with a corticosteroid drug (see Locally acting corticosteroids) to reduce inflammation. If a bacterial infection is present, antibiotics will be prescribed, in which case the symptoms usually subside within a few days. If bursitis is persistent or recurrent, surgical removal of the bursa may be necessary.

Bursitis in the knee

The knee seen on the right is swollen due to a fluid-filled, inflamed bursa, which can be caused by prolonged kneeling.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

Back to top