What are the most common bursa injuries in sports?

Written by: Mr Jonathan Walczak
Edited by: Cameron Gibson-Watt

Bursitis is one of the most common injuries in sports, especially in those who play tennis and football, or any physical sport that requires repetitive body movements. This condition can affect various parts of the body, so knowing the symptoms can help you in identifying it and stop it from interfering with your activities. Mr Jonathan Walczak, an orthopaedic and trauma surgeon, explains more.

What is a bursa injury?

bursa is tissue which the body already has or forms to protect itself. It is effectively a fluid-filled sac that cushions the body against the injuring force. There are many bursae throughout the body, sometimes located deep in areas between bones and tendons, or closer to the surface, between the skin and the bone underneath. However, if they become inflamed they can cause pain and interfere with movement and sport. Inflammation of a bursa is normally caused by overuse, or sometimes direct trauma.


What are some common bursa injuries in sports?

The most common bursa injuries in sports are:

  • Trochanteric bursitis: around the outside of the hip
  • Iliotibial bursitis: around the outside of the knee
  • Housemaid’s knee (prepatellar bursitis): in the front of the knee
  • Olecranon bursitis: under the point of the elbow
  • Sub-acromial bursitis: swelling between the tip of the shoulder blade and the ball joint of the shoulder.


What sports cause bursitis?

Sports-caused bursitis is usually caused by repetitive movement and friction either from pressure such as kneeling - where the fluid will form between the knee and the skin - or between a ligament or tendon such as the hip, the shoulder or the outside of the knee.


Runners often get trochanteric or iliotibial bursitis due to tight gluteal muscles and racket sports players, in tennis or badminton, can often experience sub-acromial bursitis in the shoulder.


What symptoms are typical of bursitis?

Symptoms of bursitis typically include a large, swollen area that is tender to touch, especially if it is caused by direct trauma. Some people may experience a snapping sensation and a feeling of warmth, swelling and pain at areas where there are prominences of bone, such as the hip, knee, shoulder and elbow. The pain can either be localised or radiate down the affected limb.


It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between bursitis and a regular tendon or joint injury, so further examination might be needed such as an MRI scan to identify it.


What is the recommended treatment?

The first step is to avoid activities that cause pain. Then, if the pain persists, a doctor will have to accurately diagnose it using a thorough examination, ultrasound and an MRI scan. In the meantime, you should also be resting and applying ice to the area to reduce any swelling.


In some cases, physiotherapy is offered to stretch the muscles or ligaments which could be tight around the bursa. In many cases, drainage of the bursa and a steroid injection is the appropriate form of treatment. In very rare cases, surgical intervention is needed.


The good news is these are very common problems and most of the time, a course of physiotherapy and a period of rest will be enough to treat it.


If you would like to book an appointment with Mr Jonathan Walczak, visit his profile and check his availability. He also offers a video-conferencing and direct messaging service, so you can ask him anything from the comfort of your home.

By Mr Jonathan Walczak
Orthopaedic surgery

Mr Jonathan Walczak is a highly experienced consultant orthopaedic and trauma surgeon, with private clinics at BMI Chelsfield Park Hospital, BMI The Sloane Hospital, BMI Shirley Oaks and KIMS Hospital in Kent. Mr Walczak specialises in hip and knee replacements, keyhole knee surgery, sports injuries, anterior cruciate ligament repair and bursitis. He is also experienced in the management of knee arthritis. A keen runner and cyclist, he understands the needs of athletes and is committed to helping people of all abilities to return to sports and physical activity where possible.

Mr Walczak trained at Guy's Hospital Medical School from 1981-1987. His postgraduate training included a specialist training fellowship in hip surgery. He has held the post of consultant trauma and orthopaedic surgeon at Bromley NHS Trust since 1999 and is now employed by Kings College NHS Trust, working at Farnborough, Beckenham and Orpington Hospitals.

His special interests are lower limb joint replacement including minimal access hip and knee replacements. He has developed a minimal access approach to the hip which has been used in over 1000 cases of hip replacement. The use of this approach has drastically reduced the need for blood transfusions in hip replacement surgery to less than 1 in 8 patients.

Mr Walczak is keen to treat both his private and NHS patients promptly with a very patient-focused approach. He is a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and a member of the British Orthopaedic Association.

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