Arthritis Bursitis

An Easy Guide to Understanding Arthritis and Bursitis


Often, people will hear the words arthritis and bursitis used interchangeably, which creates confusion.  Simply put, arthritis involves inflammation of the joints associated with a degeneration of the bone and connective tissue.  On the other hand, bursitis is also inflammation but only of the bursa, which is a cavity enveloping joints.  The bursa has a sac that is filled with fluid, which is designed to cut down on friction resulting from movement.  Interestingly, the body has more than 150 bursa, meaning bursitis can affect various parts of the body.

Now, people that are affected by arthritis experience inflammation and pain in joints that bear weight, which would include the hips and knees but arthritis also commonly affects that hands.  Then for bursitis, this is typically seen in the hips, shoulders, elbows, and even the large toe.  While both arthritis and bursitis involve inflammation and often pain, the causes are unique to each illness.

For instance, arthritis is typically related to age.  As we grow older, connective tissue and cartilage begins to deteriorate, which leads to degeneration of the bone.  Although not as common, arthritis can also develop due to an autoimmune disorder, such as rheumatoid arthritis.  In fact, most people are unaware that another form of arthritis is gout, which affects the feet.  For bursitis, this is the result of stress, an infection within the joint, some type of direct trauma, and even the onset of arthritis.

While some general doctors can take care of arthritis and bursitis, you may be referred to an orthopedic specialist since joints and bone is involved.  The first thing the doctor would do is look at arthritis and bursitis to determine if one or both are the issue.  The doctor would likely take x-rays, which would be used to confirm arthritis but bursitis does not show up on regular film.  Therefore, an MRI may need to be done in this case.

Both arthritis and bursitis can be treated and the more traditional options are very similar.  The first option would be for you to be placed on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication.  Often, doctors will start you on over-the-counter drugs such as naproxen or ibuprofen.  Other non-aggressive treatments for arthritis and bursitis include sodium, ice applied directly to the affected area, and rest, meaning to avoid using the affected joint too much.  In some instances, steroid injections might be recommended.

Now, if arthritis or bursitis were caused by some kind of infection, your doctor would put on you the appropriate antibiotic.  In the case of bursitis, if the problem goes on for two or more weeks, causing the area to swell badly and pain intensify, the doctor can drain the fluid from the sac cavity.  Although rarely done, if the problem continues or becomes serious, sometimes the bursa causing the problem is actually removed.

It is important that for both arthritis and bursitis you not allow the problem to go on untreated.  Chances are a flare up would resolve by itself but it might be that you need to see your doctor to talk about more intense treatments.  Most often, both conditions can be brought under control without aggressive action being taken.

If for any reason you were to start running a fever of 100 or more, you notice the affected area becoming seriously swollen or even hot to the touch, you feel sick overall, or the affected part of the body cannot be moved, you need to get in touch with your doctor right away.