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Diagnosing bursitis

Side view of a knee. The suprapatellar bursa is above the kneecap. The prepatellar bursa is in front of the kneecap. The infrapatellar bursa is below the kneecapYou may have bursitis if you have some of these symptoms around a joint:

If you also have a fever, or the redness or swelling happened very quickly, see your doctor as soon as possible, as you may have an infection.

Common types of bursitis are subacromial impingement (subacromial bursitis), which causes shoulder pain, olecranon bursitis (student's elbow), which causes elbow pain, bursitis in your hip, which is called greater trochanteric pain syndrome, and prepatellar and infrapatellar bursitis (housemaid's knee), which cause pain in your knee.

Usually your doctor will be able to diagnose bursitis from what you tell them and from looking at the area. An X-ray won't help, as X-rays don't show soft tissue, such as a bursa. Your GP might send you for an ultrasound scan if the affected bursa is deeper into your body and difficult to feel.

Your doctor might use a needle to take a sample of fluid from the swelling if they think that you have an infection or a type of arthritis. This fluid can help them to make the right diagnosis.

On the next page: Treating bursitis

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed July 2019.


Page reference: 255243

Review key: HIBUR-255218