A person holding a red area on their hip.
Bursitis is often caused by injury or certain motions.

What Causes Bursitis?

A bursa is a fluid-filled pouch that functions as a cushion to reduce friction between moveable structures such as bones, tendons or skin. There are several bursae distributed in your body. When these bursae are inflamed or irritated it is called bursitis. In this article, we will take a look at the top seven causes of bursitis, so you can protect your health.

Causes of Bursitis

The bursae in particular areas are more prone to irritation due to the overuse of that specific joint. This causes repetitive friction or pressure on the tissue overlying the bursa and the underlying bony prominence. Therefore, recurring activities, such as those done in certain occupations, or movements in certain sports, contribute to the inflammation of the overused bursae, leading to bursitis.

1. Certain Sports and Activities

Labor or sports that involve repetitive use of the elbow (auto mechanics, plumbers or dart players) or prolonged pressure on the area, such as students or draftsmen, may cause bursitis of the elbows. The bursa of the elbow is mainly affected.

2. Repetitive Motions

Repetitive compression and motion of the knee may cause prepatellar bursitis. The condition is more common among people with occupations that require frequent kneeling, such as carpet layers, gardeners or coal miners.

3. Obesity and Sedentary Lifestyle

The hips may be subjected to excess load, and its bursae may be irritated. This is more common among those who are obese and sedentary.

4. Wearing Improper Footwear

Wearing ill-fitting footwear or frequent irritation of the feet, like in skates, may cause the swelling of the bursa in the heels.

5. Injury

A hard blow to the elbow, knee, shoulder or heel can cause the bursa of that area to bleed. As a result, the bursa will produce excess fluid and swell. This type is called acute traumatic or hemorrhagic bursitis.

6. Cuts or Infection

A break on the skin near a bursa can cause an infection, resulting in swelling and pain to that bursa. This can happen from scratches, insect bites or puncture wounds on the skin overlying a bursa. People with impaired healing, such as diabetes, or those who have compromised immune functions are more prone to getting infected bursitis. This type of bursitis is more serious and should be assessed by a doctor immediately to prevent the spread of the infection with either antibiotics or, in some severe cases, surgery.

7. Having Other Health Conditions

People with certain conditions, such as gout, chronic kidney disease or rheumatoid arthritis, are also more prone to developing bursitis.


Due to overuse or constant pressure, people who have bursitis often observe swelling over the involved bursa and may complain of a limited range of motion of the joint. These symptoms often have minimal or no pain. The affected joint often feels stiff and tends to hurt more when it is being pressed.

Acute traumatic, hemorrhagic bursitis or infected bursitis can present with significant pain, redness and warmth of the skin over the involved bursa, decreased range of motion and significant swelling.

How is Bursitis Diagnosed?

In most cases, your doctor can diagnose bursitis through an in-depth history of your condition and physical examination. Other times, when the condition is unclear, your doctor may opt for imaging, such as x-rays or ultrasound, and blood work to help with the accurate diagnosis.

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Bursitis that presents with minimal swelling and some limitation of movement may be relieved by the following:

  • Avoiding activities that can cause rubbing and pressure to the bursa.
  • Wearing pads and compression around the bursa. Wearing well-fitted shoes for heel bursitis.
  • Taking over-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil), as they may decrease swelling and pain.
  • Applying ice to the swollen bursa after an activity, as it can prevent a flare-up of the inflammation.

When bursitis appears to be significantly swollen, causes a marked limitation of movement or is accompanied by substantial pain, see your doctor immediately. This may be a traumatic or hemorrhagic bursitis or even infected bursitis. In these cases, your doctor may need to remove excess fluid from the bursa with a needle or use antibiotics to treat an infection.