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Bone, Muscle, and Joint Problems

Bursitis and Tendinitis

Prevention - Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

A bursa is a small sac of fluid that helps the tissues surrounding a joint slide over one another easily. Injury or overuse of a joint or tendon can result in pain, redness, heat, and inflammation of the bursa, a condition known as bursitis. Bursitis often develops quickly, over just a few days, often after a specific injury, overuse, or prolonged direct pressure on a bursa.

Tendons are tough, rope-like fibres that connect muscles to bones. Injury or overuse can cause pain, tenderness, and inflammation in the tendons or the tissues surrounding them, a condition known as tendinitis. Both bursitis and tendinitis can also be related to job, sports, or household activities that require repeated twisting or rapid joint movements. Bursitis and tendinitis can occur at several different places in the body, or they can occur together in one place. The same Home Treatment is good for both problems.


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Stretch and warm up well before exercising, and increase the intensity of the activity gradually. Cool down afterwards by doing gentle stretches. See Wrist pain See Heel or foot pain for additional, joint-specific Prevention tips.

Home Treatment

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Bursitis or tendinitis will usually improve in a few days or weeks if you avoid the activity that caused it.

The most common mistake in recovery is thinking that the problem is gone when the pain is gone. Chances are, bursitis or tendinitis will recur if you do not take steps to strengthen and stretch the muscles around the joint and change the way you do some activities.

  • Rest the inflamed area. Change the way you do the activity that causes pain so that you can do it without pain. See Wrist pain See Heel or foot pain for joint-specific guidelines. To maintain fitness, substitute activities that don't stress the inflamed area.

  • As soon as you notice pain, apply ice or cold packs for 10-minute periods, once an hour or as often as you can for 72 hours. Continue applying ice (15 to 20 minutes, 3 times a day) as long as it relieves pain. See Ice and Cold Packs. Although heating pads or hot baths may feel good, ice or cold packs will reduce inflammation and promote healing.

  • Aspirin or ibuprofen may help ease pain and inflammation, but don't use medication to relieve pain while you continue overusing a joint.

  • To prevent stiffness, gently move the joint through as full a range of motion as you can without pain. As the pain subsides, continue range-of-motion exercises, and add exercises that strengthen the affected muscles.

  • Gradually resume the activity at a lower intensity. Increase the intensity slowly and only if pain does not recur.

  • Warm up before and stretch after the activity. Apply ice to the injured area after exercise to prevent pain and swelling.

In addition to the general Prevention and Home Treatment information for bursitis and tendinitis above, the following tips will be useful if you have a specific joint problem.

Wrist pain may be caused by tendinitis. Though this is not the same as carpal tunnel syndrome, the same home care may help. See Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Elbow pain is often caused by one of the following common types of tendinitis in the forearm tendons. The inside or outside of the elbow is defined by holding your arm at your side with the palm of your hand facing forward. The inside is the side closest to your body.

Elbow pain is often caused by inflammation of a tendon in the forearm.

  • Tennis elbow causes pain on the outside of the elbow where the muscles that bend the wrist back are attached.

  • Golfer's elbow causes pain on the inside of the elbow where the muscles that bend the wrist down are attached.

To relieve elbow pain and prevent further injury:

  • Wear a brace or elbow sleeve.

  • Support a sore elbow with a sling for 1 to 2 days. Do range-of-motion exercises daily.

  • Strengthen the wrist, arm, shoulder, and back muscles to help protect the elbow.

  • Use tools with larger handles.

  • Use a 2-handed tennis backhand stroke and a more flexible, midsize racquet.

  • Try to avoid hitting divots when playing golf.

  • Try to avoid sidearm pitching and throwing curve balls.

Shoulder pain that occurs on the outside of the upper arm is often caused by bursitis or tendinitis in the shoulder joint. Pain on the top of the shoulder or in the neck may be caused by tension in the trapezius muscles, which run from the back of the head across the back of the shoulders. See Neck Pain on See Neck Pain.

Bursitis, tendinitis, and muscle tension are common causes of shoulder pain.

Common symptoms of bursitis or tendinitis in the shoulder are pain, pinching, and stiffness when you raise your arm. The symptoms are often brought on by doing repeated overhead movements. Problems develop when you continue to use your shoulder without giving it time to rest. This leads to further swelling and pain.

For Home Treatment of shoulder pain, See Home Treatment. Also keep the following in mind:

  • Avoid activities that involve overhead reaching, but continue to use your shoulder.

  • Practise the pendulum exercise to prevent stiffness: Bend forward and grasp the back of a chair with the hand of your "good" arm. Let the other arm dangle straight down from the shoulder. Move the dangling arm in clockwise circles; start with small circles and gradually make them bigger. Then make counterclockwise circles (small to large). Next, swing the arm forward and backward, then from side to side. Do this exercise 10 times a day.

  • Use proper throwing techniques for baseball and football.

  • Use a different swim stroke: breast stroke or sidestroke instead of the crawl or butterfly.

Hip pain caused by tendinitis or bursitis may be felt at the side of the hip when you rise from a chair and take the first few steps, while you climb stairs, or while you drive. If pain is severe, sleeping on your side may also be painful. Pain in the front of the hip may also be caused by arthritis. See Arthritis. Hip pain can also cause knee pain. This is known as referred pain.

Knee pain may be caused by bursitis or tendinitis. See Knee Problems on See Knee Problems.

Heel or foot pain may be caused by plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendinitis. See Plantar Fasciitis. Pain in the front of the lower leg may be due to shin-splints. See Muscle Cramps and Leg Pain.

When to Call a Health Professional

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  • If there is fever, rapid swelling, or redness, or if you are unable to use a joint.

  • If severe pain continues when the joint is at rest and you have applied ice.

  • If the pain is severe and you can think of no injury or activity that might have caused it.

  • If the pain persists for 2 weeks or longer despite Home Treatment. Your doctor or a physical therapist can help you develop a specific exercise and Home Treatment plan.

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