How to keep bursitis from making every movement a pain

When I was young, I used to hear my grandmother complain about “water on the knee.” She had a hard time getting up and down our front stairs, due to the constant pain and swelling of her knee joints.

She also used to call this pain “my arthritis.” But chances are it wasn’t that at all.

You see, my grandmother was an avid gardener. She spent a lot of time on her knees, planting seedlings, digging up bulbs, and doing other gardening tasks.

Because of this constant pressure on her knees, she had irritated a small yet crucial part of her knee joints’ protective system. The result was constant pain and swelling.

The result was not arthritis, which comes from bone degeneration. No, what she had was something different and, fortunately, more treatable.

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Bursitis: The other painful “joint” condition

The bursa are small, fluid-filled sacs in each of your major joints. Their job is to keep bone and connective tissue (tendons, ligaments, and muscles) from rubbing against each other.

When a joint is overused or injured, the bursa can become inflamed, resulting in bursitis (the suffix “itis” refers to inflammation).

Many people confuse it with arthritis, where bone-on-bone friction occurs. Both are inflammatory conditions, but are caused by injury or wear to different parts of the joint.

Causes and risk factors for bursitis

There are more than 150 bursae in your body, but the most wear and tear usually happens in the knees, hips, elbows, shoulders or ankles.

It is usually the result of repetitive motion. For example, what most people call “tennis elbow” is really a case of bursitis.

Ankle bursitis is common among ice skaters and runners, as well as in the rest of us if we wear poorly fitting shoes day after day and put a strain on our ankles. Runners are also subject to bursitis of the hip, which can be especially painful.

If you are middle-aged or older, you are far more likely to have it develop than those in their 20s or 30s. More than likely, this is because your joints have had that much more time to get worn down, and any repetitive motion has been going on for decades.

Certain pre-existing medical conditions may also put you at greater risk.

Rheumatoid arthritis attacks not only joints but soft tissue throughout the body, including the bursae.

Hip bursitis, also known as trochanteric bursitis, occurs most frequently along with RA. (The trochanter is the bony end of the thigh bone where muscles and tendons are attached). Sufferers often feel as if their leg is coming loose from their hip.

Gout is a known risk factor. In fact, gout is a form of arthritis caused by the buildup of uric acid crystals in the joints.

Diabetes. When bursae are close to the skin’s surface, they easily become infected with invading bacteria. People with diabetes are particularly susceptible to this condition, known as septic bursitis.

While bursitis from overuse normally causes pain, swelling, and tenderness, septic bursitis is much more dangerous. It can lead to a deep skin infection known as cellulitis.

Symptoms of cellulitis include high fever, nausea, dizziness, uncontrolled shaking, and confusion. This is a serious medical condition which is treated with oral antibiotics or, if the infection has spread, with intravenous antibiotics.

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How to prevent bursitis

The way you exercise and what you eat (and don’t eat) are the two biggest ways to keep it from happening.

Exercise with care. If your job or hobby involves kneeling, use knee pads or soft surfaces to protect your joints. Runners should wear good quality running shoes.

If you must do repetitive tasks, make it a point to take breaks every hour or so. And, to prevent injury, always stretch and warm up before exercising.

Eat to prevent inflammation. Pineapple and papaya contain anti-inflammatory compounds. The vitamin K in dark, leafy greens like spinach and kale also prevent inflammation as does fish or krill oil.

Eating to prevent gout will also go a long way toward keeping bursitis away.

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  1. Bursitis — Health Service Executive
  2. Bursitis: Prevention — Cleveland Clinic
  3. Bursitis —
  4. Understanding Bursitis Shoulder Pain: How to Find Relief — Healthline


Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.