What Is Bursitis?

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Filed Under: Bursitis, Bone & Joint Health
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

What Is Bursitis?

Learn about the five types of bursitis and how they develop

Bursitis means inflammation of the bursa. A bursa is a sac-like structure that contains a lubricating fluid. A bursa is located anywhere you need a lubricating cushion—like where a muscle or tendon rubs over a bone or another muscle.

Normally a bursa does its job unnoticed, but if you engage in some strenuous activity, for example, it can let you know exactly where it is. When a bursa is repeatedly irritated, the body begins to deposit calcium spicules in that location (often these deposits can be seen on X-rays). The spicules are like ground glass in the bursa, and the more you move that part of your body, the more intense the pain.

Types of Bursitis

Even though hundreds of bursa exist throughout your body, there are some typical problem areas. Here are the five common types and the symptoms associated with each.

  • Sub-deltoid bursitis. One of the unfortunate by-products of dusting every piece of furniture in the house, washing and waxing your car, cleaning windows, working long hours in the garden, et cetera is an inflamed shoulder bursa. When you have sub-deltoid bursitis, sleeping on your side can be difficult and just moving your arm can be extremely painful.
  • Trochanteric bursitis. Another common and painful bursitis involves the bursa over the hip bone. If you move your hand along the side of your leg you can feel a bony knob that sticks out from the hip bone (the trochanter of the femur bone). The muscles and skin that pass over this knob are lubricated by this bursa. Among other things, a long walk or exercise class after a sedentary winter can inflame this bursa. Trochanteric bursitis often makes walking difficult and painful and sleeping on your side impossible. It's also worth noting that the pain from this area is sometimes confused with sciatic nerve pain.
  • Olecrenon bursitis. Your elbow can be another site for bursitis problems. Though not as common as sub-deltoid and trochanteric bursitis, it can leave you looking like you have a golf ball under the skin.
  • Pre-patellar bursitis. Your knee is loaded with bursa. This type of bursitis is often referred to as "housemaid's knee," since constant kneeling from scrubbing floors can cause it. Although most people mop their floors nowadays, making true “housemaid’s knee” pretty obsolete, pre-patellar bursitis is still common among carpet layers and gardeners who typically spend long hours on their knees.
  • Calcaneal bursitis. High heel shoes can claim credit for many cases of this type of bursitis, which affects the bursa in the heels. Shoes that are too tight or too large can also cause excessive pressure or rubbing on this bursa.

More Dr. Williams Advice on Bursitis

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