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Bursitis: An overview of clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and management

Derrick J Todd, MD, PhD
Section Editor
Zacharia Isaac, MD
Deputy Editor
Monica Ramirez Curtis, MD, MPH


A bursa is a fluid-filled, saclike structure lined by synovial membrane which forms in clefts between mobile structures in the musculoskeletal system. From a simplistic point of view, the deeper bursae serve as “ball bearings,” allowing the muscles to glide over each other and over prominences of bone. The more superficial bursae, such as the olecranon, ischial, or prepatellar bursa, serve as “cushions” between the skin and the bone.

The term “bursitis” implies inflammation. In many clinical scenarios this is a misnomer, as many specific bursitis syndromes are associated only with tenderness over the bursal structure and not necessarily with overt inflammation that can be documented upon physical exam or imaging.

This topic will review the overall approach to the diagnosis and management of bursitis. A more detailed discussion on specific bursae and septic bursitis can be found elsewhere. (See "Greater trochanteric pain syndrome (formerly trochanteric bursitis)" and "Knee bursitis" and "Septic bursitis".)


Bursitis may result from any one or combination of the following causes:

Direct injury or trauma.

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Apr 08, 2016.
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