A bursa is a fluid filled sac that facilitates movement of tendons and muscles over a bony prominence. Without a bursa between the two surfaces, movement would be painful. There are more than one hundred bursae scattered throughout the body.

What is bursitis?

Bursitis is the inflammation of the bursa. Under normal circumstances the bursa provides a slippery surface that has almost no friction. When it gets inflamed, it loses its gliding function and becomes irritated when moved. It swells up, becomes inflamed, and friction occurs.


The most common cause of bursitis is repetitive movement or excessive pressure. Resting on one’s elbows or repeatedly bending the elbows may cause elbow bursitis (olecraneon bursitis). Another common form of bursitis occurs from prolonged kneeling (prepatellar bursitis). Traumatic injuries such as falls, sprains, or car accidents all may cause bursitis.
In our clinic the most common forms of bursitis include shoulder bursitis, kneecap bursitis, elbow bursitis, hip bursitis, and retrocalcaneal bursitis (Achilles bursitis). 

Treatment of bursitis:

  • The first step is to keep pressure off of the affected area and try to limit movement of the affected joint. This may be done with braces or slings.
  • Apply an ice pack. Reducing the inflammation or swelling with ice will return the bursa to its normal state and usual function.
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Strengthening exercises (avoid exercises until the inflammation has resolved)
  • Take brakes. Do not continue one activity continuously for hours at a time
  • Protect the joints with cushions whenever possible, especially when doing prolonged kneeling.

Treatment with Traditional Chinese Medicine:

Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are very effective in treating bursitis.  The needles act as a pump that drives electricity and blood through the muscles and tissues. A sedation method of needling is applied, acting like an anti-inflammatory, to clear heat from the joint and bursa. In addition to placing needles along the affected channel, herbal medication that addresses swelling, inflammation, and pain is employed. These herbs are usually cool or cold in nature, activate blood and energy flow, and facilitate tissue healing. 
Topical application of anti-inflammatory and blood activating herbal poultices, compresses, or plasters further diminish the swelling, reduce inflammation, and restore normal function.
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