According to statistics, more than 9.4 million Americans suffer from bursitis, pain occurring when the bursae, a fluid-filled saclike cavity that helps to prevent friction in the joints, becomes inflamed. Common among athletes, it can affect anyone, at any age, and with over 150 bursae in the human body, it’s no surprise that many people experience it.
Bursitis most frequently occurs near joints experiencing regular, repetitive motion, such as the hips, shoulders and in the elbow. But it can strike the knee (also referred to as “housemaid’s or clergyman’s knee”), heel, and even the base of the big toe. With athletes, bursitis can be the result of inadequate stretching or joint overuse, creating friction over the bony surfaces of the joints.
“Absolutely anyone and everyone can have a problem with bursitis,” said Elizabeth Dulaney-Cripe, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with Kettering Health Network. “Patients come in with a sore hip—it hurts to lay on it. Or their knee is sore, but they don’t know what happened to cause it or when it occurred.”
There may be no bruising or swelling with bursitis, and pain can persist past a workout or increase when pressure is applied to the affected area. “The form of bursitis pain you experience can vary,” said Dr. Dulaney-Cripe. “It may be sharp in the joint or surrounding tissue, or it could be an achy, sore feeling during movement.”
If you’re experiencing this kind of pain, you can take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory. Dr. Dulaney-Cripe noted, “Stretching is key, but you can apply ice or heat, whichever feels better. Try to figure out what is causing the inflammation.”
In addition, if you’ve experienced bursitis before, the best prevention and further treatment is to maintain proper stretching before repetitive activity.
When the pain is ongoing, and you’ve implemented home remedies with no effect, it may be time to see your physician. Treatment begins with a full history and examination. The doctor may prescribe physical therapy or injections to manage the inflammation and pain. Surgery is rarely recommended, and when it is, typically it is only for the shoulder.
“Even with treatment, bursitis can come back,” said Dr. Dulaney-Cripe. “Usually, it recurs when you don’t follow the proper activity guidelines to prevent it. But if it does come back, it can be easier to treat.”
Prevention begins with stretching and doing a thorough warm-up before starting your activity. A warm-up is most effective when it includes a lighter-intensity version of whatever activity you’re going to be doing. For instance, walkers should walk lightly or do a light jog with some stretching. Swimmers should swim a lap or two, then get out of the pool and stretch well before proceeding with a full workout.
Varying your exercise and other physical activity can help, as well. If you’re a runner, for example, take a bike ride or do Pilates—something different to minimize the repetitive stress on the joints. To further reduce the risk, don’t sit for long periods of time, use cushions to protect joints when kneeling or putting pressure on elbows, and take breaks from repetitive activities.
It may seem redundant to mention again, but the majority of people who implement a comprehensive stretching program or physical therapy plan do very well. The tighter your tissues are, the more prone you’ll be to experience injury.
If you’re experiencing joint pain that doesn’t seem to have a cause, schedule an appointment or consultation with Kettering Health Network Orthopedics by visiting ketteringhealth.org/ortho or call (844) 228-6683.