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Treating bursitis

Tiler using kneepads to protect his jointsThe best treatment for bursitis is to rest and protect the joint from pressure and repetitive movements. However, don't stop moving the joint completely unless your doctor or physiotherapist tells you to. If you don't move your joint at all, you could lose muscle and end up with scar tissue that could cause long-term stiffness in the joint.

Use pads or cushions to protect the painful joint – for example, use knee pads if your job involves a lot of kneeling.

If the bursa is infected you might need antibiotics.

Your doctor may decide to drain the bursa if it is very swollen and stops you from moving. Unfortunately, the fluid is likely to come back, and it's not good to keep draining the fluid, as this increases your chances of getting an infection.

Applying ice and heat can help to reduce the swelling and ease the pain. Ice tends to help more for hot, red, swollen areas. Put crushed ice in a damp towel and hold it against the bursa for 20 minutes. If you have sensitive skin, smear it with oil before applying the ice pack.

Heat can help with deeper bursitis, for example if it is in your hip. Use a hot water bottle or wheat bag, and be careful not to burn your skin.

Your doctor or physiotherapist may suggest that you take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID) such as ibuprofen or naproxen for a short time, but will first check that you can take NSAIDs. You should not take an NSAID for more than a couple of days without your doctor's advice, and not at all if you have heart, kidney or stomach problems.

Some types of bursitis can be treated with a steroid injection, which helps to settle down the inflammation. However, this doesn't work for all types of bursitis. Your doctor or physiotherapist will know if this will help you.

A physiotherapist can also give you exercises that can help to stop or prevent injuries in the nearby tissues that might be causing the bursitis.

After treatment

Most types of bursitis will get better and the bursa will heal when whatever is causing the inflammation gets better.

However, you may be more likely to get bursitis in this area in the future. Avoid any further irritation around this area to stop the bursitis from coming back.

Being overweight can put more strain on your joints and make bursitis more likely, so try to lose some weight if this is the case.

If you have long-term pain from bursitis or a rotator cuff condition that doesn't need surgery, changing the way you hold that joint and getting exercises from a physiotherapist can help. If that doesn't make it better, a steroid injection might help.

Very rarely, a surgeon might remove the bursa if it is causing a lot of pain and problems.

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed July 2019.


Page reference: 256056

Review key: HIBUR-255218