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Bursitis - a potentially serious medical problem

Bursitis is a medical condition that can be very painful. It usually occurs in the shoulder, elbow, knee, or hip, when repeated motions inflame the bursae (the fluid sacs that cushion the bones and tendons in those joints). Bursitis can happen to anyone, but carpet and tile layers, airport baggage handlers, and carpenters are especially vulnerable.

Often the symptoms of bursitis dissipate on their own. But in some cases, physical therapy, medications or surgery are required to alleviate the inflammation and pain caused by bursitis.

Symptoms of bursitis

The most common symptoms of bursitis include pain, redness, swelling, or stiffness in a joint. However, sometimes the pain can be so great as to become disabling. You should see a doctor if you experience any of these conditions:

  • Shooting pain
  • Disabling pain
  • Sudden onset of pain
  • Inability to move a joint
  • Fever
  • Undue swelling, redness, or a rash around a joint

How does bursitis happen?

Usually, bursitis is caused by repeated movement of a joint. If you wield a hammer for work, scrub floors, lay carpet, handle baggage, or lift merchandise in a warehouse, you are vulnerable to this painful condition. But a wide range of other workers can also suffer from bursitis, including professional baseball pitchers and catchers, musicians, house painters, and gardeners.

Bursitis can also be caused by trauma to the affected area, rheumatoid arthritis, gout and infection. Diabetes can also be a risk factor, as can obesity.

Diagnosis and treatment of bursitis

Sometimes the existence of bursitis is so obvious as to be identified through a simple physical examination by a doctor. If your job requires repeated movement of a joint, make sure to tell your doctor. The examining physician may also order an MRI or ultrasound, or draw blood or fluid from the affected area.

Rest and over-the-counter pain medications may be sufficient to make bursitis pain to go away. But in some cases, more extensive treatment is required. If your bursitis was caused by an infection, the doctor may prescribe an antibiotic. Physical therapy and exercise can be highly beneficial. Sometimes, a single injection of corticosteroid drug into the bursa is all that's needed. In extreme cases, surgery may be required to drain fluid from the affected bursa or bursae.

If you suffer from bursitis caused by repeated motions that are part of your job duties, you may be eligible for workers' compensation benefits. Speak with a lawyer if you have questions about a claim or if your claim has been denied.

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