How is Bursitis Diagnosed?


Bursitis is inflammation of the bursa sac, small packets of fluid that provide a cushion between bone, muscle, skin, and joint tissue. Flare-ups of the bursae occur through overuse of joints or repetitive pressure on an area.

Doctors can diagnose bursitis based on your medical history and symptoms, and perform a physical exam to see if the bursa is swollen or irritated. If required, they may order additional tests, such as:

  • Lab tests - Blood or fluid from the bursa will be analyzed to rule out infections
  • X-rays - To rule out other causes of the pain
  • MRI or ultrasound - To provide additional, more detailed information about the affected area

How is Bursitis Treated?


The pain from bursitis typically gets better with self-care measures. Rest is vital, and you should avoid doing the activity or motion that may have caused the flare-up in the first place. Here are some tips on how to treat bursitis at home to help relieve pain:

  • Rest - Discontinue the activity, or any movement, that caused or may worsen the condition
  • Ice - Apply ice to the affected area to help with the swelling
  • Anti-inflammatory medicine - Take over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen for the pain and inflammation
  • Stretch - If you have shoulder, hip, or buttock bursitis, gently stretching the surrounding muscles can ease the tension in the affected area around the bursa

When at-home methods don't work, or if the pain doesn't get better after a week, check in with an orthopedic expert. They may suggest or administer additional bursitis treatments, including:

  • Using a cane or crutches to take some weight off the area
  • A splint or brace on the affected joint
  • Aspiration to drain excess fluid from the joint
  • Corticosteroid injections for more immediate pain and swelling relief
  • Antibiotics, in the case of an infected bursa
  • Physical therapy, which helps improve strength and mechanics and restore range of motion.
  • Occupational therapy to learn a new way of moving that helps alleviate pressure and prevent future flare-ups

Surgical options

Most cases of bursitis can heal with self-care and nonsurgical treatments. But, your doctor may recommend surgery if the pain becomes chronic (lasting six months to a year). One standard procedure is called a bursectomy, where the inflamed bursa is removed.

With rest and dedicated self-care treatments, bursitis pain can diminish after a few days or weeks. But reoccurring flare-ups can occur, especially if the habitual movements that caused them aren't adjusted. In chronic cases, bursitis can last months or years.

To help heal shoulder bursitis, try switching your sleeping position at night. Avoid sleeping on the affected shoulder and sleeping with your arms overhead. To reduce pressure and pain, you can place pillows under the shoulder for support. Learn more about reducing pain while sleeping.

While both can cause joint pain, bursitis pain stems from an inflammation of the bursa sac which surrounds the joint. Arthritis develops from wear and tear on the cartilage inside the joint. Bursitis is typically a short-term inflammatory condition, while arthritis is a chronic degenerative condition.

Start with a slightly bended knee and wrap a bandage at least twice around the shin. Work your way up over the knee, taking care to overlap the layers and use the right amount of tension — not too tight, not too loose. Secure the bandage with tape or metal clips.

The pain from untreated hip bursitis can become chronic. Eventually, the bursa could thicken and even develop scar tissue, usually associated with surrounding tendonitis, resulting in weakened muscles and painful movement.

Get Care

Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Bursitis Care

Bursitis can be painful and cause more problems if left untreated. The expert orthopedic doctors at NewYork-Presbyterian can provide top-notch care for the knee, hip, foot, ankle, elbow, shoulder, hand, and spine. They can help pinpoint the symptoms and causes of your bursitis, and recommend a course of action to alleviate pain and prevent future bursitis recurrence. Contact us to start on your path to recovery.