Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Bryony Henderson

Medically reviewed

Bursitis is inflammation of the bursa, a fluid-filled sac that cushions your joints. Read on about the symptoms and how to treat it.

What is bursitis?

Bursitis causes inflammation in your joints. It happens when a bursa, a fluid-filled sac found in many joints, becomes inflamed and swollen. This makes the joint painful and stiff.

Bursae can be found in your shoulders, elbows, hips and knees. They provide cushioning between tendons, muscles and bones, reduce friction, and help your joints move smoothly.

What are the symptoms of bursitis?

Symptoms include:

  • Pain in the affected joints

  • Swelling of the joint

  • Tenderness when you move the joint

  • Stiffness when you move the joint

  • Redness and warmth of the joint

What causes bursitis?

Causes of bursitis include:

  • Injuries

  • Repetitive movements

  • Putting pressure on the joint for a long period, like kneeling

  • Bacterial infection – this can only affect the bursa (septic bursitis), or can also affect the rest of the joint (septic arthritis, this is a medical emergency) 

How common is bursitis?

Bursitis is most commonly seen in middle-aged men. It is also commonly seen in people whose jobs require regular movement or pressure on a joint, like carpet layers or gardeners. Sometimes repetitive movement in sport, for instance repeatedly throwing a ball, can trigger bursitis. 

How is bursitis diagnosed?

A doctor will ask you about your symptoms and take a look at your joint. In some cases, they may do a joint aspiration. This is where a small amount of fluid is taken out of the joint and analysed in a lab to make sure it’s not infected.

Sometimes, you might need an ultrasound of your joint to confirm it’s bursitis. If there is any uncertainty about the diagnosis, an MRI is the next step. X-rays are also used to rule out other conditions such as osteoarthritis that have similarities with bursitis.

How to treat bursitis

Treatment depends whether or not the bursitis is caused by an infection.
If the bursa isn’t infected, treatment options include:

  • Resting the affected joint

  • Using ice packs on the affected joint

  • Anti-inflammatory medications

  • Steroid injections into the affected joint

In patients who have septic bursitis (an infection in the bursa), treatment options include:

  • Aspirating the affected joint – this involves removing some fluid from the bursa

  • Antibiotics

How long does bursitis last?

Bursitis should go away in 1 or 2 weeks, once a cause is identified and measures taken to avoid the cause. If it lasts longer than this, it is important to see a doctor.

When should I speak to a doctor about bursitis?

It can be difficult to know whether you’re suffering from bursitis so it’s recommended that you speak to your doctor about your symptoms. 

It’s important to seek urgent care if you: 

  • Feel unwell in yourself generally

  • Have a fever or chills

  • Have severe joint pain and swelling

  • Have severely limited movement of the joint

These are signs of septic arthritis, where an infection is not just found in the bursa, but also in other parts of the joint.


Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson