Tendinitis and bursitis are inflammation or breakdown of the soft tissue around muscles and bones. They often affect the shoulders, wrist, neck, hips, knees, and ankles. Tendons are cord-like structures where muscles attach to bone. Tendinitis is often very tender to the touch and caused by injury or repetitive use.
Bursitis is inflammation of a bursa. This small sac acts as a cushion between moving structures (bones, muscles, tendons, or skin). If a muscle or tendon is pulling around a corner of a bone, or over a bone, a healthy bursa protects it from fraying and stress. When a bursa is inflamed, it becomes very painful, even during rest.
What Are the Signs/Symptoms?
Tendinitis pain may be sudden, severe, and worse during movement. It may occur after a sudden, intense injury, or overuse from sports like tennis or household chores. Tenderness along the tendon or its outer covering, or at one spot, are signs of tendinitis. Pain may occur when the muscle attached to the tendon is worked against resistance. Bursitis pain may be very intense during movement or at rest. Bursitis may be caused by an infection with signs like redness, warmth and swelling of the joint. Rapid worsening of pain, redness, swelling or inability to move the joint are danger signs in both tendinitis and bursitis. A doctor can diagnose tendinitis or bursitis with a physical exam and medical history. Imaging tests like x-ray, MRI or ultrasound, and blood tests are only needed if the problem recurs or does not go away.
What Are Common Treatments?
Rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) are the immediate treatments for tendinitis and bursitis. Treatments depend on the underlying cause. Reduce force or stress if overuse or injury is the cause. A doctor or physical therapist can help patients adjust movements if tendinitis is job-related. Medications to relieve pain include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), or acetaminophen (Tylenol). Corticosteroid shots offer short-term benefit. Antibiotics are used to treat infections. Infected bursa may need draining. If gout causes bursitis, treating it may ease pain and swelling. A splint or brace offers support for affected joints. Surgery is only needed after months of treatment do not work, or to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon in the lower calf.
Living with Tendinitis/Bursitis
To prevent tendinitis or bursitis, stretch and warm up before exercise. Avoid repetitive motion or staying in one position too long. Take rest breaks. Joint protection helps prevent pain. During a flare, rest the tendon or bursa and ice it for 10-15 minutes twice a day. Seek medical attention if pain worsens or doesn’t improve in a few weeks.
Updated February 2023 by Cheryl Crow, MOT, OTR/L, and reviewed by the American College of Rheumatology.
This information is provided for general education only. Individuals should consult a qualified health care provider for professional medical advice, diagnosis and treatment of a medical or health condition.