When we say “joint pain,” what is the first thing that comes to mind?
For many people, the immediate response will be “arthritis.” That’s for good reason, too. That’s a very common joint condition.
However, arthritis is not the only cause of joint pain. Bursitis is also a consideration in many cases—especially for those who are often physically active.
Regardless of which condition you have—if either—there is very often something you can do to aid your relief and recovery. But let’s start by diving deeper into just what bursitis is and how it differs from its better-known joint pain colleague.
What’s the Difference Between Bursitis and Arthritis?
Both bursitis and arthritis can cause similar symptoms: joint pain, stiffness, tenderness, warmth, and swelling are common to both. Their differences lie in just what is causing these problems, and that requires knowing what is in around your joints.
A joint, in a nutshell, is where two bones meet. When these bones move, a layer of slippery tissue called cartilage helps guide them along and prevent them from grinding directly against each other.
However, also surrounding a joint are bursae. These are small sacs filled with lubricating fluid, and they’re placed in areas to serve as barriers against friction—either between two bones or between bones and other soft tissues. You have about 150 bursae in your body.
In most cases of arthritis, the protective layers of cartilage between bone are being worn away or attacked, which can ultimately cause bones in a joint to start grinding against each other. Cartilage can be damaged via mechanical wear (osteoarthritis) or your own immune system attacking it (rheumatoid arthritis), but there are other forms of arthritis as well.
In a case of bursitis, one of the bursae (i.e. a bursa) is at the core of the problem. Something has caused irritation to the sac, which often responds by swelling with more fluid and becoming inflamed.
Just like arthritis, bursitis can occur in just about any moving joint in the body. We naturally specialize in bursitis that occurs in the feet, toes, and ankles. Commonly, bursitis can develop in the underside of your heel and at the base of your big toe.
What Causes Bursitis?
Bursitis can have several potential causes, but the most common is overuse of the joint.
When a joint sustains repetitive impacts or strain, the chances of the bursae becoming overwhelmed and inflamed run higher.
You do not have to be in constant motion, like a runner, to develop bursitis. Activities or jobs that place consistent, repetitive pressure on a joint can also be a cause. Anything that requires repetitive stooping or kneeling, such as gardening, painting, or laying floors, has that potential.
Additional factors can contribute to your risk of developing bursitis. These include:
- Injuries to joints.
- Abnormalities in bone and muscle structure that can place excess stress on a joint or surrounding soft tissues.
- Other conditions or diseases, including diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis (we told you they could be colleagues in joint pain).
- In very rare cases, an infection.
Determining whether your joint pain is coming from bursitis, as well as the root cause if that bursitis if so, are huge steps toward creating a plan to address the issue.
How is Bursitis Treated?
Whatever the cause of your joint pain may be, never let it go unaddressed. In the case of bursitis, your symptoms may only worsen without proper treatment.
Following a thorough examination, if bursitis is determined to be the cause of the problem, we must remove the source of irritation for the bursa.
Depending on your situation, a treatment plan with this goal in mind may include:
- Rest, keeping weight off the foot or ankle to allow the bursa a better chance to recover.
- Changes in footwear, using more comfortable shoes that place less stress on the bursa.
- Anti-inflammatory medications.
- Custom orthotics, if it is determined that an abnormal foot structure is placing excess weight on the joint.
For some patients, we may recommend an advanced treatment such as laser therapy. This is an effective mode of soft tissue treatment that can stimulate the body’s own natural healing processes, resulting in faster healing times, less pain, and reduced inflammation.
In cases where an infection or other condition is a factor, we will have to consider the management of it along with managing the symptoms of the bursitis itself. Only a comprehensive approach will result in real progress with relief.
And naturally, any bursitis treatment would not be considered complete if the condition keeps coming back. We can help you take a proactive approach to avoiding the problems that caused your joint pain in the first place and greatly reduce your chances of it happening again.
Your Experts on Foot and Ankle Joint Pain
Whether bursitis, arthritis, or another form of injury has befallen one or more of your joints, the worst thing you can do about it is just grit your teeth and continue enduring the discomfort!
Dr. Harvey Danciger and our staff will provide you the personalized care you need to help you manage your symptoms, recover from your pain, and get back to doing what you love as best as possible.
Call our Palm Desert office at (760) 568-0108 to schedule an appointment with us. If you prefer electronic correspondence, please feel free to fill out our online contact form anytime instead. A member of our office will respond to you during standard office hours.