You never really notice just how much your body works for you until it goes out of commission. The joints in your body consist of lots of little parts—bones, tendons, ligaments, muscles, bursae, cartilage—and they have a tough job to do. Naturally, that’s an area that can easily be injured or overworked. And also an area that seriously throws off your groove when it isn’t working right. Bursitis is just one of those many possible overuse injuries that result from repetitive forceful movements or constant pressure on joints. Bursae are the little sacs of fluid that lie in between your bones, tendons, and skin and, when working properly, make movement easier and less harmful on the moving parts. Areas that are commonly affected are the shoulder, elbow, hip, and knee, but anywhere there’s a bursa, there can be bursitis.
- Advancing age.
- Work or activities using repetitive motion.
- Other health conditions including arthritis, diabetes, and gout.
Quick fix: OTC Pain Killers
OTC anti-inflammatories like Advil or Aleve—or the off-brands—kill your pain and also reduce swelling, which is important for soft tissue injuries. Ice has similar effects and you can apply it a few times a day for about twenty minutes.
Treatment for Bursitis
Live healthy and move well to prevent bursitis. Staying fit and maintaining a healthy body weight will make life much easier on your joints. Extra weight means more wear and tear every day. Besides that, ergonomics are huge in avoiding injuries in athletics and in daily life. Warm up before exercising, lift objects properly or use a cart for heavy things, and don’t sit or kneel on hard surfaces for long periods of time. Get up and move every so often if you work a desk job. Simple changes can make things easier on your bursae.
Discover the cause of your bursitis. Knowing the cause of your boo-boo makes it easier to modify your behavior, which reduces the stress on the bursa involved. Not only will you then heal faster, but you’ll minimize the odds of the bursitis coming back. For most people, this will be the easy part. If you have a physical job or play a particular sport frequently, you probably have a good guess about where your problem is coming from already.
Modify your behavior to lessen symptoms. First things first: stop doing whatever it is that’s painful. Duh. If you can’t stop for work reasons, ask your employer if you can modify your work activities. They might require a doctor’s note. If you’re training for a triathlon or something, I know you don’t want to stop exercising, but you have to at least lessen the intensity of your workouts and/or change to a different activity. If you push through the pain til race day, you can end up with a more serious injury and you probably won’t perform well, anyway.
Try a few things at home to start feeling better. OTC anti-inflammatories like Advil or Aleve—or the off-brands—kill your pain and also reduce swelling, which is important for soft tissue injuries. Ice has similar effects and you can apply it a few times a day for about twenty minutes. Just be sure to wrap it first. If your affected joint is a weight-bearing one, such as your hips, try to sit on softer objects. Tell your boss you’ll only get better if you can bring your bean bag chair into the office.
Get persistent pain checked out by a medical provider. Sometimes bursitis can be caused by an infection, and in those cases, doctors can prescribe the meds that will make them go away. Other suggested treatments will probably include physical therapy, corticosteroid injections, and, rarely, surgery. PT gets your muscles back in shape to relieve the pressure on your bursae, and injections can reduce swelling and relieve pain fast. Formal physical therapy requires a prescription. Bursae can also be drained surgically, or even completely removed, but that’s uncommon.
Exercises for Bursitis
- Flexion: Hold a broom or something similar in both hands, palms down. Lift it above your head while keeping your elbows straight and hold for five seconds before bringing it back down. Repeat ten times.
- Extension: Grab that broom again but hold it behind your back this time, still with both hands palms down. Lift it away from yourself and hold for five seconds again before resting. Repeat ten times.
- Scapular range of motion: Raise your shoulders and hold for five seconds. Pull your shoulders back towards each other, holding for five seconds. Pull your shoulders downwards and hold for five seconds. Repeat this cycle ten times.
- Heel slide: Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Bend your injured knee enough to have the sole of your foot flat on the ground and then, while keeping it flat on the floor, slowly slide it in towards your butt. Do three sets of ten.
- Knee flexion: Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you again. Bend your injured knee slightly and keep only the heel of that foot on the ground. Press your heel into the floor, flexing the back of your leg, and hold for five seconds. Do three sets of ten.
- Quadriceps stretch: Standing close to a wall for support, grab the ankle of your injured leg and gently pull your heel towards your butt and hold for 10‒30 seconds. Stand up straight during this stretch, and don’t let your bent leg stray out from your body, keep it close in.
- Glute stretch: Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent. Put the ankle on your injured side on your other knee. Grab the thigh of the bottom leg and gently pull it up towards your torso. Hold for 10‒30 seconds.
- Hip extension: Lie on your stomach on the floor with your legs straight out. Raise your injured leg up about eight inches off of the floor while keeping it straight. Slowly lower it back down and do three sets of ten.
- Leg lifts: Lie on your uninjured side with an arm under your head. Keeping it straight, lift the top, injured leg up about eight inches and slowly lower it back down. Do three sets of ten.
Physical Therapy at Home
Physical therapy is a necessary step in healing many athletic injuries. It’s a natural way to cure what ails you, hopefully without the use of medication, surgery, or injections, but sometimes they can’t be avoided. The thing about physical therapy, though, is that you have to actually do it and be patient for your body to get better. No overnight fix here. If you go to a doctor, he or she might send you off to a licensed physical therapist that will build a program to target your problem area. Nowadays we have the Internet, which allows us to try to do this for ourselves. It can work, has for me, but just know that it may not be as effective as formal therapy and there won’t be a medical professional on hand to help you with your form or if you hurt yourself more. I’ve listed some suggested exercises in the sidebar that may help, but only do what you feel comfortable with and start slow. Or see a doctor; they’re cool, too.