You played a few too many sets of tennis or actually decided to scrub the kitchen floor. So what have you got to show for your ambition? Bursitis, a painful inflammation of the bursae, the tiny fluid-filled sacs that cushion joints and muscles. The condition is brought on by overuse of a joint, particularly one unused to activity or pressure. Playing a game of touch football with your grandkids, wearing tight high heels or resting on your elbow for an extended period of time can trigger a flare-up. So can scraping wallpaper or swimming.
What can you do to restore movement and stop the swelling, pain and tenderness of bursitis? First, take a break from the activity that triggered it. Then quickly apply an ice pack to the affected area. Continue using an ice pack—apply for 10 minutes at a time—over the next two days. Once the swelling subsides, turn up the heat: Apply moist, hot towels or sit in a heated whirlpool. Heat encourages blood flow to the area, which speeds healing. Ibuprofen or aspirin may also bring relief.
In severe cases, your healthcare provider may suggest injections of corticosteroids or a local anesthetic. He or she also may use a syringe to draw out excess fluid from the joint and bandage the area tightly.
Bursitis generally takes from a few days to two weeks to go away. During that time it’s important to gradually increase movement in the area without aggravating the condition. Try stretches, shoulder rolls, arm rotations, leg lifts—any gentle movement that will keep the affected area from stiffening.
Unfortunately, bursitis tends to recur, and subsequent flare-ups are often harder to treat. If you suffer frequent, severe bouts, surgery to remove the troublesome bursae may be an option. Discuss the procedure with your healthcare provider.