Is It Bursitis?

That Scary-Sounding Ailment is More Common Than You Might Think

If you’ve flipped past a sports broadcast recently you’ve probably heard the word “bursitis” at least once as the anchors rattle off the names of newly injured players. In actuality, there are plenty of colloquial terms people have been using to refer to bursitis for years. Ever heard someone mention “clergyman’s knee” or “student’s elbow?” How about the rather hilarious “weaver’s bottom?” According to Medical News Today, all these somewhat silly-sounding afflictions are actually just different ways to refer to certain kinds of bursitis, and you don’t need to be an athlete to be affected by it.

Despite the way the word sounds, bursitis doesn’t have anything to do with “bursting” at all. “Bursae are lubricating sacs that lie over bony protrusions in the body,” said Dr. Ryan McCorkle, an Emergency Medicine Physician at St. David’s Hospitals in Austin, Texas. “Inflammation often occurs from repetitive motion or a sudden impact, most commonly in the shoulder, elbow, under the gluteal area, in the hip, and in the knee.” Inflammation of those lubricating sacs, which let your various pieces move easily, can cause anything from mild pain during movement to a complete inability to move a particular part at all.

Those funny names for bursitis refer to a few of the many types of people that commonly deal with an occasional bout of bursitis throughout their lives. “Student’s elbow” might mean a flare-up of the bursae in a student’s writing arm, as that elbow routinely is pushed into the top of a desk while doing work. “Clergyman’s knee” gets its name from the repeated genuflecting and standing that your career churchgoer has to perform. And “weaver’s bottom,” as you might expect, can be a real pain in the butt for anyone that does a lot of sitting on hard chairs or wooden stools.


If your shoulder is giving you bursitis trouble, National Pain Care says one option is to tap into those stored-away nursery rhymes and “Itsy Bitsy Spider” your way slowly up a wall. The itsy bitsy motions will gradually help to restore your range of movement.

If you find it hard to move some part of your body, you should probably consider the possibility that you’ve got yourself your very own case of bursitis. The good news is that in milder cases, there’s likely no need for a visit to the doctor.

“Standard R.I.C.E.N. therapy, which means rest, ice, compression, elevation, and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or aspirin), is the home remedy,” said Dr. McCorkle.  “If you’ve gotten no relief, steroid injections are next.  It’s less common, but one thing about bursitis that can be dangerous is the possibility of infection, which can happen if you impact an area and also leave a cut.  The bacteria can enter and infect the bursa. It actually happened to me once when I fell on my elbow playing basketball and ended up getting septic elbow bursitis, which requires antibiotics.  Lasted for several weeks,” Dr. McCorkle said.

No matter how you got it, bursitis is an affliction that’s best treated by taking it easy. Kick back on a soft couch and flip through the channels—next time you hear a sportscaster talk about bursitis, you’ll know exactly what they mean.




Dr. Ryan McCorkle


By Brandon Daiker

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