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Pockets of problems: How to identify and treat bursitis to keep athletes fluid

treat bursitis


Bursitis may not be a familiar term to many people but for athletes, it is no small matter.


The condition spares no one, whether a professional or amateur, and those taking part in next month’s Paris Olympics will be only too aware that the threat is never far away.


Every year some of the world’s greatest athletes are forced to withdraw from tournaments and marquee events due to some form of bursitis.


NBA basketball stars appear to be especially susceptible to knee and heel bursitis, with giants of the game like Stephen Curry and Jarred Vanderbilt both put on the injury list earlier this year.


Bursitis relates to bursas, small, fluid-filled pockets which are located in and around joints all over the body.


Their job is to provide cushioning and reduce friction when the body moves.


Some common examples of bursae are the trochanteric (located at the lateral hip), infrapatellar (located at the front of the knee), olecranon (located at the pointy end of the elbow) and subacromial (located at the top of the shoulder).


Ultra Sports Clinic Senior Physiotherapist Rachael Jaensch explains that bursitis occurs when a bursa becomes irritated. This can be caused by repetitive use and poor biomechanics around a joint. Muscle and tendon weakness or imbalance are often responsible.


“It can also be caused by trauma to the bursa,” Rachael says.


“For example, falling onto your knee could cause some inflammation to the infrapatella bursa. It is also possible to have a bacterial cause, known as septic bursitis, but this is much less common.”


The obvious symptoms of bursitis are pain and discomfort around the affected bursa and joint. Swelling and redness are other tell-tale signs, and pain is often worse with movement of the joint. 


Understandably, physiotherapists play a crucial role in diagnosing and assisting in the management of the condition. 


“Conservative management is usually what’s called for,” Rachael says.


“Treatment usually involves a brief period of modified activity, to avoid painful and aggravating movements. Ice and pain relief or anti-inflammatory medications can also help in this stage.”


Other treatments include massage and dry needling to address muscle tightness, which can contribute to pain and inflammation of the bursa. 


Once symptoms begin to settle, exercises aimed at improving muscle strength and control play an important role in restoring joint biomechanics and movement patterns.


This is important in terms of preventing the bursitis from happening again, Rachael says.

 

“Most cases of acute bursitis resolve within a few weeks. It is important that once the pain has settled that we address any factors that may cause the bursitis to re-occur and become a persistent issue.


“With good strength and regular exercise, people are at a lower risk of recurring bursitis.”


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