Elbow > Bursitis

What is Bursitis?  

Bursitis is usually caused by repetitive stress to the area in pain. It is an inflammation of the bursa sac (any area where skin is close to bone). The bursa becomes irritated, causing pain in the joint. There are bursa sacs all over the body - in the shoulder, the knee, the elbow, anywhere there is a prominence in the bone. Bursa sacs allow the skin to slide over the bony prominence. For instance, the skin on the hand is close to the bone; if it were not, a firm grip would be impossible. The bursa sacs are like an empty balloon with a drop of oil in it - one side of the balloon is attached to the bony surface and the other to the skin so it slides.


Repeated small injuries to bones - for instance, a wrestler who spends a lot of time on his knees - can cause the cells that line the bursa sac to become inflamed, secreting fluid that fills the sac. Anybody can suffer bursitis. Secretaries get bursitis in their elbows; plumbers get it in their knees. Shoulder bursitis can afflict javelin throwers, pitchers, or even electricians doing work over their heads that requires them to raise their arms for extended periods.


The first mode of treatment is RICE - Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Anti-inflammatories can help as well. If there is an underlying problem, perhaps a muscle weakness in the shoulder, it can be addressed with strengthening exercises. But the first goal is to lessen the inflammation. The prognosis for recovering from bursitis is uniformly good. The one problem with the bursa is infection, since it is right under the skin. Most of the time, the RICE treatment alleviates bursitis pain. In chronic bursitis, usually with the elbow, the collection of fluid will not go away. It becomes thick and surgery is required to remove it.


As in any case of direct trauma, the best prevention is protection. Wearing pads around bones that are exposed to contact will help prevent bursitis.


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