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What Is Bursitis? Treating Shoulder & Elbow Bursitis

By Apricus Health

14th May 2022

Bursitis is a prevalent and treatable condition brought on by everyday activities. Have you ever experienced sudden pain, swelling or stiffness in a joint? Particularly in the knees, elbows, shoulders, or hips? Bursitis is the inflammation of a bursae, is commonly found in joint areas, and can be extremely uncomfortable.

Within this article, we’re going to breakdown the cause of bursitis, examine the available treatments for bursitis, and outline how best to alleviate uncomfortable symptoms with shoulder and elbow bursitis treatment. 

What Is Bursitis?

Bursitis is an inflammation of a small fluid-filled sac called the bursa. Bursae are located near vital tendons and joints around the human body, such as the shoulders, elbows, hips, and knees. The skin, tendons, and ligaments around the critical joints would quickly wear out if there were no bursae between them and the bony surface below. There are over 150 bursae throughout the body to counter any chance of friction.

Typically, the bursae in the human body are quite thin and act as intended without much alarm. However, if there too much friction can cause swelling of the bursae. When this happens, the bursae naturally become thicker and sometimes produce fluid to generate more cushion. It goes from a very thin sac to a thick and lumpy consistency, leading to discomfort, redness, and swelling around the affected area. Bursitis is a temporary condition that can limit motion but will not lead to long-term deformities. 

What Causes Bursitis? 

Numerous factors can bring on instances of bursitis. The most common is through overuse of motions or positions that put pressure on the bursae, such as:

  • Kneeling for tasks such as laying carpet or scrubbing floors for a prolonged period
  • Throwing a ball or lifting something heavy over your head repeatedly
  • Putting your body weight on your elbows for extended periods

Other triggers for bursitis include any trauma to the affected area, inflammatory arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and infection.

What Is Bursitis in Shoulder Areas?

Bursitis in the shoulder refers to the swelling of the bursae above the rotator cuff in either shoulder or the bursae located in the subscapular area (the shoulder blade). The rotator cuff is located between the top of the arm bone and underneath the tip of the shoulder. Symptoms of bursitis in the shoulder include: 

  • Pain when trying to “circle” your arm
  • Pain when pushing on or opening a door
  • Pain that gets worse when you lift your arm to the side
  • Pressure and pain when pushing on the top of your shoulder
  • Discomfort when lying on your shoulder
  • Pain on the outside or top of your shoulder
  • Shoulder blade sitting out of position

How to Treat Bursitis in Shoulder?

Following diagnosis by a medical professional, effective treatment of bursitis in the shoulder involves practices that work to reduce inflammation. Avoid activities that induce pain, such as high-intensity work or reaching beyond the pain-free threshold. Patients can manage inflammation through medication purchased over the counter with anti-inflammatory properties. 

Treating bursitis in the shoulder also falls to improving the scapular position, leading to increased control over your rotator cuff. Otherwise known as the shoulder blade, your scapula is a triangular shaped bone in the upper back and inflammation of the bursa underneath the scapula can cause a clicking sound and pain in the area. This can cause the shoulder blade to move out of position, decreasing the patients range of motion.

Treating this involves correcting any movement issues and strengthening the muscles surrounding the shoulder blade. Remedied with a combination of physiotherapy and a corticosteroid injection in the affected areas. Surgery is only applied to patients whose pain and discomfort associated with bursitis is continually interfering with their quality of life.

For most patients, adhering to these measures over a few weeks will be enough to treat bursitis in the shoulder. After the pain has subsided, getting back into standard movement through simple exercises or other physical therapy will help get back to a normal range of motion. 

What Is Elbow Bursitis?

Elbow bursitis affects the pointy bone in your elbow. It can cause the bursa to bulge, leading to swelling that juts out from the tip, giving it the nickname ‘Popeye’s elbow’. In the location of the elbow, the bursa reduces friction between the skin and the bone. A blow to the elbow can cause it to swell or by leaning against a hard surface for an extended period.

How Do You Treat Bursitis of the Elbow?

Typically, individuals experiencing Olecranon bursitis (bursitis of the elbow) will experience pain and stiffness outside the elbow. A healthcare professional will conduct an X-Ray to rule out any other issues.  

In most instances, simple treatments work best to settle the inflammation. Ice and compression will assist with swelling. Anti-inflammatory tablets such as ibuprofen will also assist in pain management. Rest and reducing the chances of continued swelling are the best chance of improving the condition. Specialised assistance for treating Olecranon bursitis is still warranted for cases where these methods are not effective at reducing pain or discomfort. 

Sometimes, despite simple treatments, pain and swelling at the back of the elbow persist. In these cases, the excess fluid is drained from the location with a needle. 

Bursitis Treatment at Apricus Health

How to treat bursitis in the shoulder of elbow? Seek assistance from medical professionals like hand therapists, occupational therapists, and other allied health professionals.

The above article only provides the recommended steps in dealing with a proper diagnosis of bursitis after seeking medical attention. If you are concerned about whether or not you are experiencing bursitis, you should consult with a healthcare professional before starting any treatment.

With over 20 years of experience in occupational therapy, Apricus Health professionals are well-positioned to answer any questions on dealing with the lasting effects of bursitis. Effective elbow bursitis treatment, as well as shoulder, is imperative to ensure no lasting damage occurs. For rehabilitation exercises to get you back to full strength, Apricus Health will ensure your journey to maximum movement is smooth and easy. Book your complimentary discovery call today to find out how we can help.