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Bursitis, an inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs that cushion your bones, can be extremely painful and immobilizing. Would you recognize the symptoms, what's the treatment, and how can you prevent bursitis from developing in the first place?

Bursitis — an inflammation of tissues few people have even heard of — isn't the most exciting medical topic to write or read about, not in a world where head transplants have been planned, nanotechnology is fast becoming a real part of medicine, and antibiotics may soon be a thing of the past. If you have it, though, bursitis can soon become the very painful and immobilizing center of your life. 

What exactly are bursae, why do they sometimes become inflamed, and why is it important to recognize the symptoms and seek timely treatment?

What Are Bursae?

Bursae are sacs filled with gel-like fluid located around the body in strategic places, where they are supposed to form a cushion between bones and tendons and reduce friction; they are, if you like, your body's very own "shock absorbers". The most important bursae are located in the hips, shoulders, elbows, knees and heels. Unless you have a problem with your bursae, you may never even know they're there. If they do become inflamed, however, you have bursitis on your hands (or, actually, usually in your shoulder, elbow, hip, or knee). Any medical term that has "-itis" at the end indicates an inflammation, and bursitis simply means "inflammation of the bursa".

Bursitis is painful and can render the affected joint so immobile that carrying out everyday tasks becomes almost impossible. Unless you seek treatment, the condition can become a long-term problem. 

Signs That You May Have Bursitis

A joint affected by bursitis will be painful and stiff. In addition, clear signs of an inflammation will be present, manifested in the form of red and swollen joints that are warm to the touch. The swelling caused by bursitis will reduce the range of mobility in your tendon, making any movement you do attempt a painful affair. 

Bursitis can be caused by a sudden single impact to the joint in question because you fall or bump it. On occasion, when a sharp object physically pierces the bursa, bursitis can also be the result of a bacterial infection. More often though, bursitis will be the result of repetitive friction. A "tennis" elbow, for instance, is bursitis of the elbow, named after the fact that moving the elbow joint in the same manner repeatedly, as tennis players do, can lead to bursitis.

Intensive painting, jogging, or even gardening can all result in bursitis. Long-term repeated overuse of a joint, without medical attention, can lead to chronic bursitis. 

Bursitis is equally likely to strike men and women, but the risk increases with age and is most common in people over 40. Those who engage in repetitive motions using particular areas of their body during work or leisure also have higher odds of developing bursitis, as do those who have rheumatoid arthritis, gout, overweight and obesity, and diabetes. 

See your doctor if you have heavy joint pain, reduced mobility, or swelling and redness of a particular joint that does not go away within a week or improve after taking over the counter anti-inflammatory pain relievers. Take special care to seek medical attention right away if you also suffer from fever. 

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