By Kathy Hubbard
“You have the hip of an old woman,” the doctor told me around forty years ago. He was looking at my X-rays and making a tsk, tsk sound. “Do you see that mess? That’s bursitis.”
All I knew was that I had this pain in my groin for several weeks, preventing me from sleeping. At first, it felt like a pulled muscle, so I kept expecting the pain to go away. It didn’t. But, after a visit to my healthcare provider, a shot of corticosteroid medication, and a week on crutches, it did.
Bursitis is the painful swelling of a small, fluid-filled sac called a bursa. More than one is called bursae, and there are more than 150 of them throughout our bodies. Most of the time, bursitis occurs around joints.
“The pain from an inflamed bursa may be sudden or build up over time,” the Cleveland Clinic explains. “You’re most likely to develop bursitis in joints you use over and over in the same way or in places you put a lot of pressure such as the elbows, knees, feet, hips, & buttocks.
Cleveland says that bursitis’s main risk is older age, jobs or hobbies that involve repetitive tasks (think sports, manual labor, or playing music), and conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, gout, or thyroid disease.
“Repetitive motions, such as a pitcher throwing a baseball over and over, commonly cause bursitis. Also, spending time in positions that put pressure on the part of your body can cause a flare-up. Occasionally, a sudden injury or infection can cause bursitis,” Cleveland says.
I don’t know for sure what I was doing to get bursitis in my hip, although at the time, my job involved spending a lot of time standing up. Thanks to fashion, I worked in high-heeled shoes.
It’s relatively common for people who kneel to get bursitis. I’m talking more about people who lay carpet for a living or who scrub floors on their hands and knees than those who worship every Sunday. Other activities such as carpentry, gardening, and raking, painting, shoveling, and having poor posture or a poorly positioned joint or bone can lead to bursitis. It’s also fairly common in people with one leg longer than the other.
“The affected joint might feel achy or stiff, hurt more when you move it or press on it, look swollen and red,” Mayo Clinic says. “Consult your doctor if you have to disable joint pain, sudden inability to move a joint, excessive swelling, redness, bruising or a rash in the affected area; sharp or shooting pain, especially when you exercise or exert yourself or a fever.”
Cleveland Clinic says that “rest is the primary treatment for bursitis. Avoid activity to prevent further injury and give the area time to heal. Especially stop doing the repetitive activity that irritated the bursa.”
Mayo agrees and adds that you should apply ice for the first 48 hours, then dry or moist heat. A warm bath might be helpful. You can take an over-the-counter analgesic or use one of the topical potions that are on the market.
“Cushion your knees if you sleep on your side by placing a small pillow between your legs,” they say.
Your healthcare provider might order an antibiotic if the bursitis is caused by infection. He or she might suggest physical or occupational therapy. In my case, you might need an injection of a corticosteroid medication that quickly decreases inflammation and pain.
If none of that works, after six months to a year, your PCP might suggest surgery to repair the bursa. Surgery is uncommon because most bursitis is short-lived, lasting a few hours to a few days.
You can get bursitis more than once in the same area. Bursitis may come and go. Repeated flare-ups may damage the bursa and reduce your mobility in that joint. Fortunately, that hasn’t been my experience. Perhaps I should tell the doctor I’m a healed hippie.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of the Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.