What Is A Bursa?

A painful inflammation of a bursa is called bursitis. Learn what it is and how it can be treated!

A painful inflammation of a bursa, which is the flat sac that contains synovial fluid which facilitates the normal movement of some of the bodies joints and muscles by reducing friction, is called bursitis. The bursa are located throughout the body in areas of friction, such as where muscles or tendons pass over bone, and normally contain a minute amount of fluid. When the bursa is injured it will become inflamed and fill with fluid. In most cases this will occur with the over use, some infections, rheumatoid arthritis, injuries, or gout but the actual cause is still unknown. This painful condition will most often begin in the shoulder since it appears to be most susceptible, but it can also occur in the pelvis, knees, toes, heels, elbows and hips.

The pain caused by bursitis will tend to limit movement depending on the area of inflammation and may be painful when touched. With bursitis in the shoulder raising the arm or such activities as putting on a coat will be painful. If left untreated, this type of bursitis may cause what is called frozen shoulder. Patches of skin near the affected area may appear swollen and red, especially when the knees and elbows are affected. If the bursitis is caused by an infection or gout it will be especially painful. In this cases the affected area will appear red and feel warm to the touch. When the bursitis occurs due to repeated injuries or previous bouts of acute bursitis where an infection is involved, the walls of the bursa may thicken and accumulate an abnormal material that has solid, chalky calcium deposits. This makes the bursa even more susceptible to additional inflammation when they are subjected to strain or any unusual exercise. In this case the pain may last indefinitely causing muscles to atrophy and become weakened.

There are many different forms of bursitis. Housemaids knee, which is caused by kneeling on hard surfaces for long periods of time is also known as prepatellar bursitis. Tibial tubercle bursitis, which is also known as clergyman's knee, is cause by kneeling on an upright surface. Student's elbow or olecranon bursitis is caused by prolonged pressure of the elbow point against a table or desk. Doctors will make a diagnoses of bursitis based on a soreness in the area of the affected bursa and specific joint movements that are painful. A fluid sample may be removed from the bursa to be checked for causes such as gout or infection. In most cases the initial treatment for bursitis is rest, immobilization of the affected joint and anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen are prescribed. Often the fluid subsides after a few days and is reabsorbed into the blood stream. An ice pack can be applied to relieve pain. When the bursa is discovered to be infected it will be drained and antibiotics will be prescribed. The doctor may recommend the application of a pressure bandage in this case to keep the fluid from reoccurring. In severe cases where stronger analgesics are necessary a mixture of local anesthetic and corticosteriod may be injected directly into the bursa or a corticosteriod taken by mouth may be prescribed. Once the joint pain has subsided exercises can help to strengthen the weakened muscles and aid with re-establishing the joints full range of motion. In extremely rare cases the bursal sac is completely removed by a process that is known as a bursectomy.

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