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Bursitis Facts and Treatment

Bursitis Causes

This articles has been created to assist you in your understanding of what bursitis is and how it is commonly treated.

Before moving any further into the discussion of bursitis, we need to first understand what a bursa is (pl. bursae)  Bursae are fluid filled sacs lined with a synovial membrane which produce fluid. This is why when bursae are irritated (i.e. bursitis), the area around them may swell.

Bursae are often found near joints. For instance, the trochanteric bursa is located between the greater trochanter (the bony prominence at the hip) and the muscles and tendons that cross over the greater trochanter. This bursa can get irritated if the IT band is too tight, with a fall, or with changes in the way you move. This bursa is a common cause of lateral thigh (hip) pain. Two other bursa that can get inflamed around the hip are the iliopsoas bursa, located under the iliopsoas muscle and the bursa located over the ischial tuberosity (the bone you sit on).

The function of a bursa is to lessen the friction between tendon and bone, ligament and bone, tendons and ligaments, and between muscles.  Inflammation or infection of the bursa is called bursitis.

Bursitis is most commonly the result of trauma, overuse, underuse, or an alteration in the biomechanics of the body (i.e. abnormal body movement).

Bursitis Symptoms

BursitisThere are many bursae all over the body – around the hips, elbows, knees, shoulders, etc. Bursitis in any of these locations can cause considerable pain and discomfort and are common reasons for doctors visits.

Individuals with bursitis typically experience pain in the region of the bursa.  For instance, in trochanteric bursitis, which is quite common, causes pain over the greater trochanter (the bony prominence on the outside of your thigh — what we commonly think of as the “hip”). The quality of pain may be burning in nature.  Typically pain is worse with activity (which irritates the already inflamed bursa) and with direct pressure on the bursa (e.g. in trochanteric bursitis, individuals typically report pain at night time when they try to sleep on the affected side).

Bursitis Diagnosis

The diagnosis of bursitis begins with your doctor asking you questions about any injury that may have started your symptoms and the quality of the symptoms. He or she will ask you about any alleviating or exacerbating factors (i.e. what makes you feel better or worse). Your doctor will  then perform an examination of the involved area of the body to give him/her clues regarding what might be causing your pain.

Regular X-rays of the involved area of the body will likely be taken to rule out any bony injury or any other cause for your symptoms.  Bursae themselves are oftentimes not seen on X-rays, as X-rays mainly allow for the visualization of bone. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may order an MRI scan to get a better look at the involved body part. An MRI is very good at evaluating the soft tissue structures, and may show the inflamed bursa.

Bursitis Treatment

Thankfully, most of the time, bursitis in any part of the body responds well to non-surgical options.  Common treatment options for bursitis include initial rest, then physical therapy, ice, and anti-inflammatory medications. Corticosteroid injections can also sometimes help to improve symptoms of bursitis.  It is important to note that the location of the bursitis will often determine some of the specifics of bursitis treatment. For instance, for elbow bursitis, an elbow sleeve can additionally be worn to protect the elbow while it heals.

Surgery is oftentimes a last resort.  There are two indications for surgery for bursitis.  One, if your bursa is infected (called septic bursitis) or two, if your bursitis continues to give you significant problems despite prolonged non-surgical management. With surgery, the bursa is removed. While this certainly can seem aggressive, the muscles and joints in all parts of the body can function quite well without the bursae.


  1. Gordon Norris says

    In response to Cindy Schmidler’s issue, I have suffered with trocheranteric bursitis in both hips for the past year. Last Friday (November 6th 2020) I received Corticosteroid injections into both hips. The injections themselves were quite painful, but the relief from the hip pain was almost instantaneous. It remains to be seen whether this is a permanent fix, but for now at least I feel terrific. No more moaning and groaning when entering/exiting vehicles or deep seats. Once more it’s me taking the dog for a walk and not the other way around. Hope this helps.

  2. My Doctor states that there isn’t anything else that she can do for me and I feel that there is nothing else for me to do.

  3. I have had trocánteres bursitis of the left hip since I was fourteen. I am now 56 and now have psoriatic arthritis as well. I am in pain all the time, am on remicade, every two months. I have tried physical therapy many times, but nothing seems to work. Is there anything else that can help?

  4. Joyce Hinde says

    I sat down very hard on a metal bar some time ago and at that moment thought I might have broken my pelvis or thigh bone it was such a big impact .luckily nothing was broken and at first I felt no pain , later I realised something was damaged. I get a pain in my left hip if I sit for any time , long flights are awful,also not during but after exercise . Sometimes it is down my thigh , or behind my knee , also not good when I lie down, have been to Dr but got nowhere. It still hurts after three years. Have I damaged my sciatic nerve, or is it bursitis or….?

  5. Cindy Schmidler says

    Hi, Mary! Based on what you’ve explained, you might benefit from physical or occupational therapy, if you don’t undergo it already. Ask your doctor about these services to find out if they’re beneficial for your case. We hope this helps!

  6. Mary Jane Brown says

    I have a plate in my lower leg because of a broken tibia. This causes my leg to bow out to the side and therefore be shorter. My hip pops and cracks painfully when I try to spread my legs. What can I do about this? I am an active 76 year old.

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