Treatment and Prevention of Bursitis

Bursitis is among the most common orthopedic conditions, and a frequent reason to see a healthcare provider. Bursitis occurs when there is inflammation within a bursa, which is a structure that provides smooth movement between bones, tendons, and muscles. There are many bursae scattered throughout your body, and bursitis can affect different joints or body parts.

The mainstay of treatment of bursitis is to control inflammation. These steps can help address inflammation, which subsequently will reduce the symptoms of bursitis. Seldom is surgery necessary to address bursitis, although that may be a treatment option for people in rare cases.


Resting the Inflamed Bursa

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The first steps of bursitis treatment are to keep pressure off of the affected area and try to limit your activity of that joint. Some individuals benefit from placing an elastic bandage (Ace wrap) or immobilizing brace around the joint until the inflammation subsides. Movement and pressure of the inflamed area will only cause exacerbation and prolongation of symptoms.

People who struggle with persistent or recurrent bursitis often place continued stress on the area, not allowing the affected area to heal. Like many overuse conditions, bursitis typically responds well to a short period of rest. However, in some patients, further treatment is necessary. That said, everyone should start by trying to rest an inflamed bursa before pursuing medications, injections, or other more aggressive treatments.


Apply an Ice Pack

Woman with ice pack on knee


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Icing the area of inflammation is an important initial step in bursitis treatment. The ice will help to control the inflammation and decrease swelling. By minimizing inflammation and swelling, the bursa can return to its usual state and perform its usual function. Ice is also helpful to reduce pain associated with bursitis.

Ice can typically be applied frequently, just about as often as you might want. It is important to not ice for more than about 15-20 minutes at a time, and then to take a break of at least that long to allow the skin to warm. Icing for too long at one time can lead to skin damage and even frostbite. A light cloth may also be used to protect the skin from direct contact with ice.


Take Anti-Inflammatory Medications

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Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) include a long list of options such as Ibuprofen, Motrin, Naprosyn, Celebrex, and many others. Bursitis treatment can be improved by these medications that will decrease pain and swelling. Typically patients will try an anti-inflammatory taken regularly for a short course of time to allow the inflammation to subside.

Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before starting anti-inflammatory medications, as there are possible side-effects and some patients should avoid NSAIDs because of other medical conditions.


Consider a Cortisone Shot

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For certain types of bursitis, If the symptoms are persistent, an injection of cortisone may be considered. Cortisone is a powerful anti-inflammatory medication, but instead of being given by mouth, it is injected directly into the site of inflammation. This can be extremely helpful for situations that are not improved with rest.

There are possible side-effects of cortisone, and as with any invasive treatment, typically this step is only taken after simpler treatments have failed to provide adequate relief.


Strengthening and Physical Therapy

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Proper strengthening technique can help you avoid bursitis by using your muscles in a safe, more efficient manner. For example, patients with shoulder bursitis can strengthen the muscles to avoid causing inflammation in the shoulder during activities.

Physical therapy can also include various modalities and treatments to help reduce inflammation. Your physical therapist can help to alleviate the inflammation before beginning an exercise program that can help to improve joint mechanics.


Take Breaks from Activity

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People know "if it hurts, don't do it." But seldom do people listen to that voice that is telling them to avoid activities that aggravate their symptoms. The human body has a tremendous capacity to heal from injury, but it often requires you to rest that body part to allow for healing to take place. We all know if you pick at a scab it will take longer to heal. Similarly, if you consistently aggravate an inflamed bursa, it will take longer to recover.

Simple steps to take activity breaks include:

  • Alternate repetitive tasks with breaks.
  • Don't perform one activity continuously for hours at a time.
  • Limit the amount you are going to do in a given timeframe, and stick to that.

Cushion Your Joints

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If your work involves an activity such as prolonged kneeling, use protective cushions. Often when there is direct pressure on a bursa, that can cause inflammation and irritation. 

While this is most common with kneecap bursitis, and people who have to kneel while working, this is also true of elbows and hips where pressure directly on the bursa can lead to exacerbation of symptoms.

Protective padding can help to ensure that forces are not applied directly to the bursa. For people who perform work activities with abnormal pressure directly on the bursa, recurrent inflammation of the bursa can become a problem.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Blackwell JR, Hay BA, Bolt AM, Hay SM. Olecranon bursitis: a systematic overview. Shoulder Elbow. 2014;6(3):182-90. doi:10.1177/1758573214532787

  2. Maroon JC, Bost JW, Maroon A. Natural anti-inflammatory agents for pain relief. Surg Neurol Int. 2010;1:80. doi:10.4103/2152-7806.73804

Additional Reading

By Jonathan Cluett, MD
Jonathan Cluett, MD, is board-certified in orthopedic surgery. He served as assistant team physician to Chivas USA (Major League Soccer) and the United States men's and women's national soccer teams.