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Andy’s a good tennis player. Correction: Andy is a great tennis player. He loves the competition and intensity of the game and is known for his dominating serve.

Recently Andy developed pain in his shoulder. At first he thought nothing of it and continued his training, but the pain became unbearable. The pain was so bad he went to see his doctor, who informed him he had shoulder bursitis.

bursitis shoulder joint

What Is Bursitis?

From your head down to your big toes, your body has lots of differently shaped and sized joints. Many have something in common near the area of the joint — a customized fluid sac that provides cushioning for movement and pressure. These small cushions are known as bursae (a single one is called a bursa). Bursitis is the term used to describe inflammation or irritation of a bursa. Bursitis can result from a direct hit or from repetitive joint movements (like a tennis serve).

If a bursa becomes irritated, either by a direct hit or from a nearby joint repeating the same movement (like a tennis serve), then bursitis can occur. People can also get bursitis when the body has to change its balance or movement to adapt to differences; for example, if a person has one leg that’s shorter than the other.

Where Does Bursitis Occur?

Bursitis, especially in teens, is often likely to happen because of sports-related injuries, usually from repeated use of a particular joint or trauma from a direct hit in a contact sport. It’s not only sporty types who get bursitis, though. It can sometimes be caused by other problems, such as arthritis or a bacterial infection of the bursa.

Here are some of the areas in which teens most commonly get bursitis:

  • Elbow. Because the elbow is an essential part of many activities, like throwing a ball or swinging a tennis racket, elbow bursitis is one of the most common types of bursitis in teens.
  • Knee. Bursitis in the knee can be the result of falling directly on the knee or any activity that requires long periods of kneeling.
  • Hip. Bursitis of the hip is often associated with running.
  • Shoulder. Bursitis of the shoulder can be the result of an awkward fall or the repetitive movements common in overhead sports such as swimming, baseball, and tennis.
  • Ankle. Someone who goes overboard with jumping, running, or walking can get ankle bursitis. Wearing poorly fitted shoes can lead to ankle bursitis.

How to Detect Bursitis

Bursitis can cause a number of different symptoms:

  • Pain and sensitivity in or around a joint. This is the most common and obvious sign that a person may have bursitis.
  • Difficulty moving the affected joint. This happens because the bursa has swollen and made it tough to move the joint properly.
  • Swelling. The affected area may appear swollen due to inflammation.
  • Reddening of the skin. The inflamed bursa may cause the skin around the joint to change color. Because the bursa can become infected, seek medical attention if the area becomes very red, warm, and painful.

How to Treat Bursitis

In most cases, you will probably be able to treat bursitis at home.

The key part of at-home treatment, as with many injuries, is rest. Besides resting the affected joint or region, to help get rid of bursitis try:

  • Ice: Ice used on the bursitis may reduce pain. Ice can be applied several times a day for up to 20 minutes. Icing the area will also help to lessen the swelling that can occur with bursitis.
  • Heat: Putting heat (warm, not hot) on the area may reduce pain and stiffness.
  • Protection: Depending on location of the bursitis, you may be able to protect or cushion the area. For example, a sling may help to rest the shoulder. Also avoid placing pressure on the bursa, which will aggravate bursitis rather than help it to heal.
  • Medication: Anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen may help reduce pain and swelling.

Avoiding Bursitis

Bursitis is often the result of a hard impact on a joint or overworking a joint, and sometimes these injuries are unavoidable. But taking these steps can help you avoid getting bursitis:

  • Stay in shape. Working out regularly strengthens muscles and joints, which helps protect against bursitis.
  • Don’t overdo it. Too much of anything can be bad, and the same goes for overworking joints.
  • Start and stop workouts properly. One of the best ways to prevent bursitis is by working out properly. Warming up and cooling down are essential parts of working out and should never be skipped. Gradually starting and stopping your workout is less stressful for your joints and body.
  • Stretch it out. Stretching not only helps improve flexibility, but is also useful in preventing bursitis.
  • Mix it up. Whether you’re rotating exercises while lifting weights or just taking a breather from a strenuous activity, your joints will thank you.
  • Better padded than sorry. Use cushions on wooden or metal chairs and kneepads when kneeling on hardwood or concrete floors to help reduce the risk of developing bursitis. Also avoid putting extreme amounts of pressure or weight directly on joints.
  • Keep it moving. Don’t stay planted on your butt, knees, or other joints for long periods of time. Even if it’s for a few minutes, get up and move around.

If you realize that a particular activity causes you to get bursitis, stop doing it and talk to your doctor or coach about safer methods.

Be on the lookout for bursitis if you participate in a sport. The best way to avoid it is by using the proper techniques and equipment. If your bursitis was caused by something like ill-fitting shoes or other equipment, replace that equipment with something that fits you better.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: December 2013