The muscles and bones of the body work together like a smoothly oiled machine. Some of the “oil” is provided by fluid-filled sacks called bursae. Bursae are strategically located in areas where muscles, ligaments, and tendons might otherwise rub against bones. The smooth surface of a bursa allows tissues to move across each other without friction.
Bursae, however, can become inflamed, leading to a condition called bursitis. One of the main causes of bursitis is repetitive motion. For example, custodians who use a vacuum cleaner may develop bursitis in the elbow. Excessive pressure, such as caused by prolonged kneeling, can also injure a bursa. More rarely, gout, arthritis, and certain infections can cause bursitis.
Bursitis occurs most commonly in the hip, knee, elbow, or heel. Symptoms include tenderness, swelling, and pain with motion.
Conventional treatment involves resting the affected area and using anti-inflammatory drugs. If an attack of bursitis does not respond to this treatment, drainage of the bursa and injection of corticosteroids may be used.
Various practical steps can help prevent bursitis. Using knee pads can protect the bursa of the knee from pressure injury. Exercises that strengthen the muscle around a joint are thought to reduce stress on the bursae in the area. Finally, it is important to break up repetitive movements with alternative movement patterns as well as periods of rest.
There are no natural treatments for bursitis that have meaningful scientific support.
The herb white willow has effects similar to those of aspirin,1 and on this basis it might be expected to offer some benefit in bursitis. However, white willow has not been directly studied for that purpose.
Yoga increases flexibility, and might help bursitis by stretching tendons and ligaments, and therefore releasing tension in the area around the bursa. Movement therapies, such as Pilates and Feldenkrais, involve deliberate retraining of movement and could therefore alter the repetitive movements that can cause bursitis. Tai Chi might also lead to improved movement habits.
1. Chrubasik S, Eisenberg E, Balan E, et al. Treatment of low back pain exacerbations with willow bark extract: a randomized double-blind study. Am J Med. 2000;109:9–14.
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
Last Updated: 12/15/2015
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