Causes of Joint Pain: Bursitis - SkyGen

Causes of Joint Pain: Bursitis

Our joints take a lot of abuse in the form of weight, friction, awkward twisting, and outright injury. Lubrication reduces the damage some of those can cause, particularly friction, and synovial fluid provides an excellent source of this. But Bursae (the little sacs of synovial fluid around your joints) get caught in the middle of all of this and many things can inflame them. Welcome to bursitis, inflammation of the bursae.

Warmth around the joint, pain, stiffness, and even visible swelling can all be indications of an inflamed bursa. Your shoulders, knees, and the back of your ankle are where you’re most likely to see or feel (if you’re less lucky) a bursa that’s been antagonised a little too much. This is not the sort of hurt that can be “walked off” really. In fact, activity usually aggravates things in the short term, leaving stiffness in the muscles and tendons surrounding the joint and even the bursa itself in more serious cases.

Bursitis is often caused by more than one influencing factor, and sometimes the exact cause isn’t identifiable. But without a doubt, repetitive motion of a particular joint and too much pressure are among the most common (and easily thwarted) conspirators. Shadow agents even. A mixture of work, bad exercise habits (pushing too far, bad warm up/cool down, improper technique), sport, and even repetitive everyday activities can all provide more than adequate opportunity for a joint to be subjected to these elements. The host of other potential contributing factors is even broader, including auto-immune disorders like HIV or diabetes, negative consequences of medical treatment, or infections.

Actually, anything that creates inflammation can also jump into the fray and contribute to bursitis. Trauma to a joint can create inflammation in the muscles around the joint and jostle it pretty well too. The swelling of the muscles puts pressure on the bursae, which fits into a very tight, specific, space. In this case, the bursar becomes irritated and can become inflamed itself. Rheumatiod arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and gout can also inflame the area and put pressure on the bursae.

In this way bursitis is also a self exacerbating condition; the bursa’s swelling in response to any of these other factors reduces the space allowed for this delicately positioned bubble of fluid. Tight space equals more pressure, more pressure equals more irritation and, as sure as night follows day, inflammation increases. This is also why a compression bandage is not a recommended treatment for bursitis, as it only serves to put additional pressure on the inflamed bursa, bringing on further irritation. It’s not all bad news though, there are other ways to tackle this problem.

Before doing anything, it’s important to figure out whether or not there is an infection at play, either on its own or in the aforementioned melee. Fortunately, the majority of cases are aseptic and infection free. Unfortunately, it’s usually advised that the inflamed bursa be drained with a needle  so that the it can be tested for infection.

If there isn’t any infection, the treatment of bursitis is pretty straightforward and easy to manage. Icing the bursa, elevating it, resting it, anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, and physical therapy are the more conservative techniques of dealing with it.

If the bursa is infected, then antibiotic treatment will need to be added to the beginning of the treatment regimen if any of the other techniques are to have any positive effect at all. In cases of bursitis where all of the more conservative treatments fail, then the surgical removal of the bursa may be considered. Actually, it’s not as scary as that sentence made it sound; the bursa should grow back in a few weeks, minus any of the inflammatory aggravators that had gotten so attached to its predecessor. Again I repeat the Golden Rule, remember to always consult your General Practitioner or Orthopaedic Surgeon (if necessary) for an expert opinion if you suspect you have Bursitis.

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*Please read: Although the information provided on this page may describe a particular patient experience and/or outcome, readers must understand that each patient presents with a unique medical history and may be recommended a different treatment/surgery by their surgeon to that described above. Individual results may vary between surgery centre/hospital, surgeon, surgery type and patient. Although SkyGen agrees to share all updates from patients at their request, SkyGen does not endorse any physical activities attempted by patients following surgery which do not follow the explicit instructions provided by their surgeon. SkyGen encourages all patients to discuss the risks of such activities with medical professionals before attempting these themselves.

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Written by William Harrison

William Harrison is a professional medical writer and investigatory health journalist. Left partially paralysed in a fall that broke his back, he received two serious spinal operations and learned to walk again in Thailand, the land he now calls home. A food loving, tea guzzling, experience junkie, he has written extensively on health, medicine, fitness and Thai tourism. The partial product of his experiences and passions, he now avidly follows the development of stem cell therapies internationally as SkyGen's resident health journalist.