When That Knee, Hip or Shoulder Ache Is Bursitis

Medically reviewed by
Dr. Thomas DiStefano
McLeod Orthopaedics  Cheraw

In approximately 150 spots in the body, small jelly-like sacs, called bursa, containing a small amount of fluid helps reduce friction between bones and soft tissues. If the sac becomes inflamed, tenderness and pain results in a situation called bursitis.

“This condition most commonly affects the knees, hip and shoulder,” says McLeod Orthopedic Specialist Dr. Thomas DiStefano. “It can be triggered by a direct blow to the joint, arthritis, side effects from diabetes and certain medications or constant pressure, like kneeling.”

Bursitis of the kneecap is often found in plumbers, roofers, gardeners or anyone who spends a lot of time working on their knees. Athletes in football, wrestling or basketball can fall and suffer a blow to their knee, hip or shoulder.

In its early stages, the victim can feel sharp, intense pain. It can feel worse at night. After a while, it can become more of an ache and spread beyond the joint. In the hip, long walks, stair climbing or squatting can worsen the discomfort and, over time, may result in pain when lifting and reaching with some loss of strength and motion.


  • Early treatments involve icing the area 3 or 4 times a day for 20 minutes. If it’s the knee, elevate it when seated.
  • Ibuprofen, Naproxen or other over-the-counter medication can help control pain.
  • Injections with corticosteroids.
  • If it’s infected antibiotics may be prescribed.
  • If these treatments don’t control the pain and swelling, your specialist may try draining the bursa. However, this may lead to chronic swelling.
  • In that case the Orthopedic Surgeon can go in and remove the bursa.
  • Following surgery, the patient should resume normal activities in a few weeks.

If your work involves kneeling, wear kneepads, which may also be appropriate in contact sports. Consider alternating activities to avoid long periods of stress on the knees. For hips, lose weight and avoid repetitive activities that stress your hips.

Find an Orthopedic Specialist near you.

Sources include: McLeod Health, National Institutes of Health, American Academy of Orthopaedics Surgeons, Arthritis Foundation