Burisitis is an inflammatory condition that affects the bursae, which work like shock absorbers or cushioning that absorbs impact and pressure, in the case of the human body between bones, muscles, joints and other surfaces that rub against each other. Each bursa is lined with synovial cells that produce synovial fluid, a viscous fluid that actually provides the cushioning effect. There are about 160 bursae in the human body.
The inflammation of the bursae can be extremely painful causing swelling and tenderness in the affected areas. The severity of the condition can vary depending on how severe the inflammation is. The shoulder, hips and elbows are the most commonly affected joints, but it can also develop in the knees, as well as in the heels and toes. Frequent repetitive motions increase the likelihood of bursitis and joints that are subjected to such repetitive stresses are more susceptible to bursitis.
Bursitis becomes increasingly common with the onset of age, but the condition can actually affect individuals of any age group. The younger the patient however the faster and more effective the recovery is. The most important aspect of treatment and care is adequate rest for the affected joint, without which recovery is not possible. With proper care the symptoms can resolve completely within a week or two, but the problem can be recurrent.
Symptoms of Bursitis
Like most inflammatory conditions bursitis is a fairly constant source of pain! At most times the pain is simply a dull ache but any movement or stress on the affected joint or tendon can result in moderate to excruciating pain. Any kind of pressure or stress applied to the joint can cause severe pain. The specific symptoms may vary a bit depending on the area affected.
Shoulder bursitis is one of the most common manifestations of the condition and it can be rather debilitating. Simple activities like reaching out to lift or maneuver objects can become challenging as overhead lifting becomes almost impossible because of the severe pain. The range of motion of the affected shoulder is significantly reduced. Symptoms are usually worse at night.
Pressure on the bursa from bending the elbow can cause severe pain, greatly restricting mobility of the joint. Unfortunately, this is also one of the most repetitively used joints, the motion of bending and extending the elbow is required for the simplest of activities, from doodling to performing complex surgical procedures.
Like many other stress injuries this type of bursitis is rather common among young athletes. Its also fairly common among female adolescents, thanks to high heels!
The pain radiates down the front and middle of the thighs and intensifies when the hips are extended or rotated. Extension of the hips also increases pain and consequently longer strides cause more pain. You may even experience tenderness in the groin area.
Bursitis can also affect other joints like the knees, thighs, buttocks and other joints or tendons that are subjected to repetitive stress.
Cause of Bursitis
Bursitis is one of the most common injuries caused by stress from repetitive motions. The risks of bursitis consequently increase greatly if you are engaged in activities that involves any kind of repetitive motion. These could include:
- The risk of shoulder bursitis is increased with activities like repeatedly raising a bat and swinging it whilst playing baseball.
- Activities like running and sprinting likewise put recurrent stress on the knees and ankles and could cause bursitis to develop in these joints as well.
In addition to these risk factors however, there are other possible causes of bursitis that include:
Traumatic injury could cause inflammation and swelling that increases pressure upon the bursa. This could result in bursitis.
Inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and gout could also contribute to the development of bursitis.
As is the case with most degenerative diseases, aging could also be a cause for bursitis.
Remedies for Bursitis
Bursitis can be treated quite effectively at home but its absolutely essential that you follow the advice of your health care provider diligently. Treatment for bursitis typically involves rest, pain medication and the application of home treatments like ice packs or cool compresses. Physical therapy is also an important aspect of the treatment and recovery program when dealing with bursitis. If the problem persists for up to six months or even a year, more drastic measures, such as surgery to reduce pressure on the bursa, may be required.
In addition to conventional methods of treatment, some relief may also be obtained through the use of complementary and alternative therapies:
- Certain herbs like boswellia and white willow are believed to offer relief from bursitis because of their anti-inflammatory effects. Always exercise caution and consult with your health care provider before using any herbs however, as they can trigger severe side effects. Most herbs with anti-inflammatory properties can significantly increase the risk of bleeding.
- Acupuncture may be used in combination with conventional treatment to help relieve pain and inflammation. Several studies have found it to be effective in the treatment of pain, but it works best in combination with conventional treatment.
- Chiropractic treatment is quite popular, notwithstanding the ridicule heaped on Allan for his career choice in Two and a Half Men! Chiropractors often use a variety of techniques including massage and ultrasound therapy to treat their patients. There is no scientific evidence or research that supports any of the claims with regard to chiropractic treatment however.
- Physical therapy could involve a variety of techniques ranging from gentle yoga to Pilates or Tai Chi. Physical therapy is recognized as crucial to recovery and is in fact central to bursitis treatment even in conventional medicine. The movements of such gentle exercise routines can help to reduce and relieve pressure on the affected bursa, and therapies like yoga and Pilates can help to improve flexibility and strengthen the muscles.
Diet for Bursitis
Dietary modifications and changes may not offer much help when treating bursitis but your nutritional intake is important for the health of your body this includes every body structure, from your vital organs to your ligaments, tissues, muscles and naturally to the bursae as well. As a general rule, it may be best to avoid processed foods with high sugar and fat levels as they can aggravate inflammatory conditions. At the same time it would be a good idea to up your intake of whole grain foods, fresh fruits and veggies, as well as fatty fish.
Suggestions for Bursitis
You could also try these simple tips to deal with bursitis and to relieve the pain and inflammation:
- Recovery is not possible without rest, as bursitis typically occurs as a stress injury from repetitive movements.
- Swelling can be relieved through the application of a cold compress.
- Over the counter pain medications can help provide some quick relief but they should only be used as a last resort and should be avoided if you suffer from any other health condition or are on any other medications.
- Make it a point to place a small pillow between your legs whilst sleeping, if you tend to lie on your sides.
- Avoid excessive pressure on the elbows, such as from leaning forward on them at a table or whilst raising your body out of a sleeping position.
Ma T, Kao MJ, Lin IH, Chiu YL, Chien C, Ho TJ, Chu BC, Chang YH. A study on the clinical effects of physical therapy and acupuncture to treat spontaneous frozen shoulder. Am J Chin Med. 2006;34(5):759-75. PubMed PMID: 17080543.
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