What is bursitis and how can physiotherapy treat it?


What is bursitis and how can physiotherapy treat it?

What is bursitis?

The term bursitis broadly describes a common cause of musculoskeletal pain.

Bursitis can be an acute or chronic condition that can cause pain or swelling next to a joint.

  • Acute bursitis— Typically due to trauma, microcrystalline disease, or infection causes tenderness directly over the bursa, with pain caused by any active motion that uses muscles attached to the involved bursa.
  • Chronic bursitis— Chronic bursitis is more often due to repetitive overuse, microtrauma, or inflammatory arthropathies such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Most of the time, bursitis happens around the shoulder, elbow, hip, or knee. It can also happen around other joints in the body.

What are bursae?

A “bursa” is a small fluid-filled sac that sits near a bone. It cushions and protects nearby tissues when they rub on or slide over bones. These sacs, called “bursae,” are found in many places throughout the body. Bursitis happens when a bursa gets irritated and swollen. This can happen when a person:

  • Moves a joint over and over again in the same way, over a short period of time
  • Sits on a hard surface or stays in a position that presses on the bursa for a long time
  • Has certain kinds of arthritis, such as gout or rheumatoid arthritis, that can affect their joints and bursae
  • Gets hurt near a bursa
  • Has an infection that spreads to a bursa

What are the symptoms of bursitis?

Symptoms of bursitis can include:

  • Pain or tenderness
  • Swelling
  • Trouble moving the joint

A bursa can even become infected

If a person gets a cut on the skin nearby, an infected bursa can cause a fever and the area around the bursa to be:

  • Red
  • Swollen
  • Warm
  • Painful

If you have any of the symptoms of an infected bursa, you need to get yourself to the Doctor ASAP.

How does a physiotherapist diagnose bursitis?

Your physio will ask about your symptoms and do a physical exam.

They might also order imaging tests, such as an MRI scan or ultrasound.

Physiotherapy for the treatment of the bursitis

The first approach to most cases of bursitis should be non-operative. Unlike cartilage, the bursa has the ability to heal. In short, bursitis will get better. Therefore, the goal of physiotherapy treatment is to relieve the immediate symptoms, to prevent the secondary complications related to muscle atrophy, and to maintain range of motion.

Physiotherapy exercises have been demonstrated to improve the shoulder range of motion, the joint pain and the overall shoulder function during every day life for people with bursitis.

For shoulder bursitis for instance, physiotherapy basically consists of strengthening the rotator cuff, the scapular stabilisation muscles, and of stretching the anterior and posterior shoulder girdle.

What can I do to treat my bursitis?

To help treat your bursitis, your Lane Cove Physio will likely recommend you to:

  • Rest, cushion, and protect the area. For example, people with painful shoulder bursitis might need to avoid lifting or carrying heavy things for a while and wear an arm sling
  • Avoid positions that put pressure on the area. People with bursitis of the knee should avoid kneeling
  • Put ice on the area to reduce pain
  • Put heat on the area to reduce pain and stiffness – Do not use ice or heat for more than 20 minutes at a time.

How can I prevent bursitis?

To help reduce the chance that you get bursitis, you can:

  • Use cushions or pads to avoid putting too much pressure on joints – For example, people who garden can kneel on a kneeling pad
  • Take breaks if you are using a certain joint too much
  • Stop an activity or change the way you are doing it, if you feel pain
  • Exercise
  • Lose weight, if you are overweight
  • Use good posture

If you are worried about painful joints and would like to book an appointment or for more information please make an appointment on (02) 9428 5772 or send us an email at info@lanecovephysio.com.au.