The bursa is a part of the body that you probably don't think about on a daily basis. You have around 150 of these small, fluid-filled sacs throughout your body. Called bursae all together, their job is to cushion the joints so that the bones, muscles and ligaments can all work together smoothly. If they're doing their job well, the bursae seldom get a second thought.

If a bursa becomes inflamed, it's called bursitis, which can make even simple, everyday movements become a painful ordeal. These are the most common joints where bursitis occurs:

  • Hip
  • Knee
  • Elbow
  • Shoulder
  • Heel 

What are ways to prevent bursitis?

What can you do to keep your bursae happy and prevent bursitis? The most common causes are overuse and repetitive motion. You don't have to be a star athlete to develop bursitis—regular activities like household cleaning or gardening can cause bursitis, too. Whether you're an avid gardener or the pitcher for a major league baseball team, there are steps you can take to prevent bursitis. Remember to:

  • Stretch regularly
  • Take regular breaks when you're doing activities that require repetitive or prolonged motions
  • Use kneepads or a cushion if you're kneeling, gardening or scrubbing floors
  • Build rest days or cross-training days into your exercise program

If you're an athlete, seek out good coaching to make sure you've got good form and technique. A coach can help you make sure you're using the right muscles and not repeating motions that are going to hurt the bursae.

Does bursitis just go away?

Even if you're taking steps to avoid bursitis, it can still flare up and cause joint pain. You can get some relief by:

  • Avoiding painful activities, including any repetitive motions or activities that may have caused the pain in the first place
  • Elevating the injured area
  • Using ice wrapped in a towel for the first two days and applying it for 15–20 minutes up to four times a day
  • Using moist heat (like a hot shower or towel dampened with hot water) before physical activities and then using ice after
  • Taking ibuprofen or another over-the-counter, anti-inflammatory medication

Most of the time, bursitis goes away on its own after a couple of weeks. If you have severe joint pain or joint pain that doesn't go away after a few weeks, talk to your doctor. There may be other treatments you can try, like exercises or cortisone injections, or there might be another issue besides bursitis causing your joint pain.

To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.