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Inflammation or irritation of a bursa, the fibrous sac that acts as a cushion between moving structures of bones, muscles, tendons or skin.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Library of Medicine)

About Bursitis

Bursitis and tendinitis are both common conditions that involve inflammation of the soft tissue around muscles and bones, most often in the shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee, or ankle.

A bursa is a small, fluid-filled sac that acts as a cushion between a bone and other moving parts: muscles, tendons, or skin. Bursae are found throughout the body. Bursitis occurs when a bursa becomes inflamed (redness and increased fluid in the bursa).

A tendon is a flexible band of fibrous tissue that connects muscles to bones. Tendinitis is inflammation of a tendon. Tendons transmit the pull of the muscle to the bone to cause movement. They are found throughout the body, including the hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, ankles, and feet. Tendons can be small, like those found in the hand, or large, like the Achilles tendon in the heel.

Bursitis is commonly caused by overuse or direct trauma to a joint. Bursitis may occur at the knee or elbow, from kneeling or leaning on the elbows longer than usual on a hard surface, for example....Read more about Bursitis NIH - National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder: a systematic review of the effectiveness of intra-articular corticosteroid injections.

Bibliographic details: Griesser MJ, Harris JD, Campbell JE, Jones GL.  Adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder: a systematic review of the effectiveness of intra-articular corticosteroid injections. Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. American volume 2011; 93(18): 1727-173321938377

The effectiveness of corticosteroid injections compared with physiotherapeutic interventions for adhesive capsulitis: a systematic review

The review concluded that corticosteroids injections had a greater effect in the short-term compared with physiotherapy; the effect decreased over time. The authors stated that the results must be interpreted with caution due to the limited number of trials and differences between interventions. The review was generally well conducted and the authors’ conclusions are suitably cautious and appear appropriate.

Shoulder adhesive capsulitis: systematic review of randomised trials using multiple corticosteroid injections

This review concluded that multiple corticosteroid injections for the treatment of adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder improved pain and range of motion for 6 to 16 weeks from the first injection. There was no evidence that treatment with more than six injections was effective. However, the authors’ conclusions are uncertain given the lack of reported results.

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Summaries for consumers

Topical rubefacients for acute and chronic musculoskeletal pain in adults

This is an update of a review of rubefacients for acute and chronic pain, originally published in 2009, that includes one new study.

Physical tests for shoulder impingement in primary care

Impingement (or pinching) of soft‐tissues in or around the shoulder is a common cause of pain and is often linked to tissue damage in and around the joint. If doctors and therapists could identify impingement and associated damage using simple, physical tests, it would help them to inform on the best treatment approach at an early stage. We were particularly interested in the primary (community) care setting, because this is where most shoulder pain is diagnosed and managed. We reviewed original research papers for evidence on the accuracy of physical tests for shoulder impingement or associated damage, in people whose symptoms and/or history suggest any of these disorders. To find the research papers, we searched the main electronic databases of medical and allied literature up to 2010. Two review authors screened assessed the quality of each research paper and extracted important information. If multiple research papers reported using the same test for the same condition, we intended to combine their results to gain a more precise estimate of the test's accuracy. We included 33 research papers. These related to studies of 4002 shoulders in 3852 patients. None of the studies exclusively looked at patients from primary care, though two recruited some of their patients from primary care. The majority of studies used arthroscopic surgery as the reference standard. There were 170 different target condition/index test combinations but only six instances where the same test was used in the same way, and for the same reason, in two studies. For this reason combining results was not appropriate. We concluded that there is insufficient evidence upon which to base selection of physical tests for shoulder impingement, and potentially related conditions, in primary care.

Terms to know

A general term for conditions that cause inflammation (swelling) of the joints and surrounding tissues. Some forms of arthritis may occur simultaneously with osteoporosis and Paget's disease.
A bursa is a small fluid-filled sac. It provides a cushion between bones and tendons and/or muscles around a joint. This helps to reduce friction between the bones and allows free movement.
Redness, swelling, pain, and/or a feeling of heat in an area of the body. This is a protective reaction to injury, disease, or irritation of the tissues.
A bag or pouch inside a plant or animal that typically contains a fluid.
Inflammation or irritation of a tendon.
Tough, fibrous, cord-like tissue that connects muscle to bone or another structure, such as an eyeball. Tendons help the bone or structure to move.

More about Bursitis

Photo of an adult

Also called: Inflammation of bursa

Other terms to know: See all 6
Arthritis, Bursa, Inflammation

Keep up with systematic reviews on Bursitis:


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