By: Scott Burg, DO
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Do you tend to bump the car door shut with your hip? Don’t be surprised if your bursa complains.
Bursae are small sacs of fluid cushioning the bones, tendons and muscles near joints. Acute injury, overuse, or degenerative arthritis in the hip or back can lead to bursitis.
This painful inflammation of the bursa and surrounding tissue commonly targets the hip and its many bursae. Typically, the bursae cushioning the greater trochanter, or outward portion of your upper thigh bone, are affected.
“Trochanteric bursitis can affect anyone. Middle-aged and elderly women are especially prone to it, but people with very physical jobs, such as carpenters and house painters, are also at risk,” says Scott Burg, DO. “Hobbies and activities that involve repetitive twisting or rapid joint movement, or acute or prolonged pressure on joints, can also lead to bursitis.”
Gardening, raking, jogging, bicycling long distances, and playing tennis, golf or even a musical instrument can increase your odds of developing bursitis.
What bursitis feels like
Trochanteric bursitis brings warmth, swelling and pain to the outer thigh that can spread down to the knee. Walking intensifies the pain, limping is common, and climbing steps can become difficult. Tenderness on the side you’re lying on may interfere with sleep.
“But everyone’s response to pain is unique,” notes Dr. Burg. “Some people feel minimal discomfort that annoys them, while others sense pain more intensely. That’s why some people don’t need much anesthetic when a tooth is pulled, while others need a truckload.”
Home treatment with rest, ice and anti-inflammatories can help. It’s also important to avoid any activities that cause pain, including excessive standing.
When to seek help
Most trochanteric bursitis resolves on its own after two weeks. If home treatment hasn’t relieved your discomfort after two weeks, it’s time to see a doctor. A specialist in orthopaedics, rheumatology, 0r physical medicine and rehabilitation can help.
You doctor may ask you questions like:
- Do you remember bumping your outer thigh or hip?
- When did the pain begin?
- Did you scrape your skin?
- Did you get a fever?
Sometimes, physical therapy can be prescribed. If that doesn’t help, steroids can be injected into the bursa to relieve the inflammation.
Injections aren’t for everyone
“Injections can bring long-lasting and sometimes permanent relief,” notes Dr. Burg. “But they won’t be effective if you keep doing the work or activity that caused your bursitis in the first place. You have to eliminate the source of the problem.”
In the rare cases where trochanteric bursitis persists after 12 months of medical therapy, surgery can be considered.
But chances are, with proper care, your bursa will stop complaining long before that.