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Bursitis Causes and Symptoms

Updated on February 14, 2010

Bursitis is an inflammation of a bursa. A bursa, or bursal sac, is a lined sac containing a small amount of fluid and surrounded by a loose fibrous network. Normally there are 52 bursas in the human body, located at friction points, as between tendon and bone; they act as cushions and make for smooth movement. Bursitis is a common human ailment. The bursas most frequently involved are those of the shoulder (subdeltoid), elbow (olecranon), hip (trochanteric), knee (prepatellar), and heel (plantar).

Causes and Symptoms

The inflammation of a bursa may be due to injury, infection, or various diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, or tuberculosis. Following injury, the bursal sac may become distended with bloody fluid. If infected, the sac may become distended with pus. Many bursas are also often subject to chronic irritation, frequently of mechanical origin, which may cause adhesion- formations of fibrous tissue that cause the inner surfaces of the bursa to become stuck together. Occasionally, calcium salts may be deposited within the bursa.

The symptoms of bursitis vary according to the location of the affected bursa and the severity of the inflammation. Usually bursitis causes pain, limitation of motion, tenderness, and disability.


The general treatment of bursitis includes the application of heat, the oral administration of anti-inflammatory drugs, and the injection of cortisone directly into the bursa. If infected, the bursa may be drained surgically, and under certain circumstances it may have to be removed.


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