An Inflammatory Issue: The Effects of Bursitis

by Wellness Editor – MH

No matter where it strikes or what causes it, bodily pain is something that can make your day all the more challenging. In many cases, pain is a fleeting problem, solved with a dosage or two of over-the-counter pain relievers. Unfortunately, certain injuries and conditions can cause pain that last for weeks on end. One such malady is bursitis, a condition that, as alluded to by this article’s title, can develop in many areas throughout the body. Though bursitis pain can linger for prolonged periods of time, proper treatment and care can help ensure that the patient makes a relatively speedy recovery.

A Familiar Foe

When discussing human health, the term “inflammation” is usually not referenced in a positive light. To be fair, bodily inflammation (occurring when various tissues swell in size and turn a reddish color) is often a necessary evil, as your body resorts to such a tactic in order to fend off infection. After the body sustains a serious infection or injury, the immune system responds by inflaming the surrounding tissues, protecting the afflicted area against further incursions by hostile invaders. This inflammation also allows the body to begin repairing itself.

Unfortunately, inflammation is also the body’s not-so-subtle way of indicating that one or more of its parts has been overused. Tendonitis, a condition that frequently victimizes professional athletes, occurs after the body’s tendons become inflamed (the tendons are tasked with keeping the body’s muscles attached to the skeleton). Inflammation can also afflict your bursae, fluid-filled sacs scattered throughout the body. This affliction is referred to by doctors as bursitis.

While most people would be hard-pressed to tell you anything about the bursae, rest assured that these sacs play a key role in your daily health. In fact, you couldn’t move around pain-free without them. The bursae function as cushioning between your body’s many bones, tendons, ligaments and muscles, preventing them from grinding against each another. In total, there are 150 bursa sacs located in your shoulders, neck, legs, elbows and other areas of the body.

Pain from Friction

Normally, your bursae have a smooth, slippery surface that allows them to glide effortlessly around the surrounding bones and tissues. When inflamed, the bursae lose their maneuverability, leading to painful friction whenever the bursa tries to move. This inflammation is usually blamed on one of two culprits – overuse or traumatic injury.

As you can imagine, your bursa sacs see plenty of action on a daily basis, since your body utilizes them for virtually every movement you make. Most of the time, they are up to the task. Like every other gear and cog in your body, however, your bursae can only be asked to do so much before they begin to buckle under the stress. Or, more accurately, they become inflamed after being overtaxed. Some activities that can trigger this problem are listed below:

  • Frequently using a vacuum cleaner; this can cause bursitis in the elbow
  • Kneeling for extended periods of time, which can happen while the patient is laying carpet or scrubbing floors
  • Throwing a baseball repeatedly (pitchers in particular wind up on their teams’ disabled list due to bursitis)
  • Sitting on hard, uncomfortable surfaces for long periods of time

For some patients, bursitis develops after the body suffers a traumatic injury. Both car accidents and falls, for example, have been known to cause bursa inflammation. Whether caused by overuse or injury, many bursitis patients see their elbows, knees and shoulders swell up noticeably.

Relieving Bursitis Pain

Given that bursitis develops after a certain part of the body has been overworked, it’s only logical that doctors usually advise patients to rest the damaged area. While this sounds simple enough, this treatment method can also be somewhat frustrating, as bursitis pain may persist for a few weeks before fading. In addition, certain activities or repetitive motions should be avoided until the pain has subsided.

While the inflamed tissue begins to heal, doctors often recommend that patients take an over-the-counter pain reliever. Icing the afflicted area can also accelerate the body’s recovery process. If the patient’s inflammation is especially severe and/or persistent, the doctor may inject the patient with an anti-inflammatory corticosteroid shot. While these medications have a high rate of success, their potency and subsequent side effects strictly limits how often doctors can use them.

Many people successfully treat their bursitis, only to see it return over and over again. The proceeding tips might help prevent recurring bouts of bursitis, or at least serve to shorten their length and intensity.

Replace Beat Up Shoes, Pads and Other Equipment – While bursitis is usually a self-inflicted ailment, you might be surprised to learn that items like ill-fitting shoes can also bring about bursitis of the heel. Additionally, athletes who play contact sports frequently wear pads to prevent bursitis from developing in their elbows, knees and shoulders.

Make Good Use of Heating Pads – If you’re not fond of icepacks, you could go the opposite route and apply a heating pad to the inflamed area instead. Besides reducing pain, heating pads can also help the body remove fluid buildup from inflamed bursa, allowing it to move around more freely.

Perform Range-of-Motion ExercisesA case of bursitis doesn’t mean that the patient is completely unable to exercise the damaged area. In fact, doctors often prescribe range-of-motion exercises to their bursitis patients, using them as a way to prevent the formation of scar tissue. These exercises also keep the surrounding muscles from becoming weak.

An example of an effective range-of-motion technique focuses on the body’s shoulders. The patient uses his or her good arm to support themselves against a desk or the back of a chair. After getting in position, the patient then swings the injured arm in a back-and-forth motion, followed by some clockwise and counter-clockwise circles.

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