What Is Bursitis?


Bursitis is a painful condition that affects the small, fluid-filled pads -- called bursae -- that act as a cushion between the bones and the tendons and muscles near joints. Bursitis is the inflammation of the bursae. Most common locations for bursitis are the shoulder, elbow and hip, but can occur in other locations like the knee, heel and base of the big toe.

Bursitis is typically caused by repetitive, minor impact on the area, or from a sudden, more serious injury. Age can also play a role as tendons become less elastic and more susceptible to tearing.


Bursitis causes pain and tenderness around the affected bone or tendon. The bursae sacs may swell, often making movement difficult. Other signs and symptoms of bursitis include:

  • Shoulder
    • Pain when raising arms above head
    • Discomfort worsens at night
    • Decreased range of motion
  • Elbow
    • Increased pain if the elbow is bent
    • Infection is common in this bursa
  • Hip
    • Pain while walking
    • Tenderness in groin area
    • Pain in front and middle areas of thigh to knee and is increased when hip is extended or rotated
  • Knee
    • Swelling on the front of the kneecap
    • Pain when knee is bent
    • Pain worsens at night

Treatment at Penn

Treatment typically begins conservatively with rest, ice and medication (over-the-counter pain medications). If the pain does not subside, physical therapy will likely be prescribed to help strengthen the leg muscles in the affected area.

Sometimes an inflamed bursa must be surgically drained, but only rarely is surgical removal of the affected bursa necessary.

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