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9 Self-Care Tips for Acute or Chronic Bursitis

Bursitis, the painful inflammation of the small fluid-filled sacs in our joints called bursae, can significantly impact daily activities and quality of life. These sacs are present in joints like the hips, shoulders, elbows, knees, and heels, helping tendons glide smoothly over bones. When a bursa becomes inflamed, the affected joint may swell, turn red, and become warm to the touch, often resulting in sharp pain during movement. At Palmetto Bone and Joint, the best orthopedic surgeons in Chapin, SC, understand the challenges of managing bursitis. That’s why we’ve compiled these nine self-care tips to help you alleviate the symptoms of both acute and chronic bursitis from the comfort of your home.

Bursitis Self-Care Treatment at Home

Bursitis is the inflammation of a bursa, or small fluid-filled sac, in a joint. All our joints—hips, shoulders, elbows, knees, even heels—contain bursae, which help tendons glide over the bones of the joint. When a bursa becomes inflamed causing bursitis, the joint may swell and become red and warm to the touch. You’ll feel pain, which may be sharp, especially when you try to move the affected area.

Many cases of bursitis improve with home treatment. Learn more about self-care tips to treat bursitis here, including natural bursitis remedies.

1. Rest the affected joint.

Stop using your joint. If you try to ‘push through’ the pain of bursitis, you’ll only cause additional inflammation. If you have bursitis of the shoulder or elbow, use your other arm instead of the affected arm, at least until the pain of acute bursitis subsides. If you have bursitis of the hip, knee or heel, you may need to minimize your weight-bearing activities (standing, walking, running) for a while. Whenever possible, rest with your leg elevated.

2. Apply ice to decrease inflammation and relieve pain.

An ice pack can reduce inflammation and pain. Apply ice to the affected area for 10 to 20 minutes a time, a few times per day. Ice is most effective when applied during the first 24 to 48 hours after an injury. So, try to ice the affected area as soon as possible after noticing pain and inflammation. If you have chronic bursitis—that is painful swelling which persists over a period of a few weeks or months—ice isn’t as likely to be effective.

3. Take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication.

runner with knee bursitis or inflamed bursa

Aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen sodium are over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). They decrease inflammation and relieve pain. Taking these types of pain relievers as directed on the package every few hours will often reduce pain, help you feel more comfortable and minimize the underlying inflammation. NSAIDs can cause an upset stomach and ulcers in some people. If you have kidney or liver disease, a history of heart attack or stroke, or a gastrointestinal disease, talk with your doctor before taking an NSAID.

4. Consider compression to minimize swelling and pain.

Occasionally, applying compression to the affected joint can minimize or reduce swelling, and decrease pain. You can try wrapping the area with a compression bandage or slip on a compression sleeve. Be careful; compression should be firm but not tight. If you feel any numbness, tingling or increased pain, or notice swelling below the wrap or sleeve, remove it.

You only use compression the first day or so after an injury. If you still have pain and swelling after three days, it’s time to see a qualified provider.

5. Get support from family and friends: Ask for help!

You’re going to need some help while you’re resting the joint. Let friends, family members and coworkers help you with everyday tasks. You might also want to use a cane, brace or splints, depending on the location and severity of your bursitis symptoms. If you have bursitis in the hip, you might find it useful to use a cane in your opposite hand; doing so can take some stress off the affected hip. A splint or brace might feel good when putting pressure on an affected knee or elbow (and remind you to rest the area).

6. Try glucosamine or omega-3 fatty acids.

woman on yoga mat suffering from ankle bursitis

Glucosamine is a substance found in cartilage and muscles. Research has shown that over-the-counter glucosamine supplements may help inflammation in bursitis. Do not take glucosamine if you take a blood-thinning medication, as glucosamine can increase the risk of bleeding.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in oily fish and flaxseed; you can also find over-the-counter omega-3 supplements. Researchers are still studying omega-3 fatty acid effectiveness, but they seem to decrease the production of inflammatory chemicals in the body. If you take a blood thinner, do not take fish oil or omega-3 supplements without first talking to your doctor.

7. Ask your doctor about bromelain and herbal supplements.

Bromelain is an enzyme that comes from pineapples and reduces inflammation. Do not take bromelain supplements without first talking to your healthcare provider. If taken with antibiotics—which are sometimes prescribed for bursitis caused by an infection—bromelain can increase the amount of antibiotic in the body to dangerous levels. It also increases the risk of bleeding.

Turmeric, boswellia, and white willow are three herbs that may reduce inflammation. However, all three increase the risk of bleeding. Do not take any over-the-counter supplements without first clearing them with your doctor.

8. Be careful with massage therapy to the affected area.

Massage can feel good, and myofascial release therapy (a type of massage) may decrease the pain of a sore joint. However, do not massage the whole affected bursa area if your bursitis pain is caused by an infection; you may inadvertently promote the spread of the infectious agent throughout the body.

You might not know if an infection is the cause of your pain. When in doubt, skip massage. Instead, rest, ice and elevate the area; take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication. If those steps don’t lead to improvement in a few days, call your healthcare provider.

9. Seek medical attention if…

Man with inflamed elbow bursa

Most cases of bursitis can be managed at home. However, if you experience rapid worsening of joint pain or, redness or swelling, or are suddenly unable to move your joint, seek immediate medical care. (You can call your regular healthcare provider or head to an urgent care clinic.)

You should also call a specialist if you still have significant pain after three weeks or so of rest and treatment at home. At that point, medical treatment may be needed to relieve your symptoms.

If you have tried all of these treatments and are still suffering from pain, then call one of our three office locations. At Palmetto Bone and Joint, our team of experienced orthopedic specialists is ready to provide you with the comprehensive care you need. We’re happy to schedule you an appointment with one of our specialist to evaluate your condition and determine what other treatments that might be right for you. Let us help you find the most effective treatment plan tailored to your condition, so you can get back to living your life pain-free.

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