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Bursitis hit out of the blue

March 2017

man with knee pain

An active friend rang suddenly to say she was stuck in a chair all day after being diagnosed with bursitis.

Neither of us had ever heard of this before and the problem came on so suddenly, with no early warning signs, that here at Laterlife we thought it worth investigating.

Considering we have 160 bursae in our bodies, I was quite surprised so few people know about them! A bursa is a little fluid filled sac found under the skin, usually over and around our joints, and they act as a cushion between moving tendons and bones. Each bursa is lined with special cells called synovial cells, which produce a liquid that lubricates the moving parts, helping to reduce friction.

Bursitis occurs when these little bursas become inflamed and swell. As you can imagine, the pressure from the swelling causes pain and the most common areas where bursitis occurs are the shoulder, elbow, knee and hip.  But of course other areas could also be affected, including the foot and ankle.

Injury or repetitive movement can be a major cause of bursitis, for instance gardeners who spend a lot of their time kneeling down can have an increased risk of bursitis in their knees.

Generally the advice is rest the affected area so that you do not inflame the problem anymore and also reduce the inflammation perhaps with an ice pack or ibuprofen.

It can take a few weeks for the swelling to disappear completed and the pain to go, and this means patience if the bursitis is in the knee like my friend as it means limited walking.

In more severe cases, fluid can be drained from the bursa which will relieve the pain and sometimes corticosteroid injections can be recommended which contain steroids to help reduce inflammation.

There is also a slightly different condition called septic bursitis. This is when the bursa becomes inflamed due to an infection that may have got in from a cut in the area or spread from nearby soft tissue.  Here your doctor will probably prescribe antibiotics to help get rid of the infection.

Sometimes despite treatments the symptoms simply do not improve.  The more investigation will be undertaken including by specialists such as a rheumatologist to look carefully at the bones, muscles and joints or an orthopaedic surgeon. Surgery can be an option to remove the affected bursa, most commonly when the bursa is infected and hasn’t responded to normal antibiotics.

Apart from the pain and the limitation bursitis puts on the affected joints, it is one of those health problems which include quite a lot of wait and see to find out if you are improving.  Luckily rest and treatment to reduce any swelling seems to be working for my friend, so hopefully she will soon be up and back to normal.


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