Arthritis Vs Bursitis

Nobody likes it when the doctor calls an ailment 'just a normal part of aging." However, that's often the case. If your joints have ever ached and caused you to restrict your activities, you might have wondered if those stiff, achy joints are caused by bursitis or arthritis. Bursitis is painful, no doubt, but arthritis can be crippling.


Arthritis is technically defined as "inflammation of a joint or a state characterized by inflammation of the joints." The term covers a multitude of rheumatic diseases, but the most common ones are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Bursitis is defined as "inflammation or irritation of the bursa." The bursa is a little fluid-filled sac that cushions joints when they move. It is located between bones, muscles, tendons, and skin.


Osteoarthritis is caused by normal wear and use of joints. It is not entirely clear what causes rheumatoid arthritis, although it is thought to begin when the immune system begins attacking the joints' lining. It is likely genetic but can be triggered by environmental factors such as bacteria or viruses.

Bursitis is caused when the bursa becomes inflamed. Normal wear and tear can cause bursitis, especially repetitive movements. Most of the activities in which people engage-gardening, shoveling, painting, scrubbing, and most sports-involve repetitive movements that can cause bursitis. It's caused by both older age and activity.


There are different types of arthritis, each with its own set of symptoms. The two most common types, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, both cause pain and stiffness. However, rheumatoid arthritis also involves painful swelling in joints on both sides of the body. It is especially noticeable when first waking up.

Pain is the most common symptom of bursitis. WebMD explains that the pain may come on gradually and build or may begin suddenly and be severe.


Treating arthritis depends on the type of arthritis and severity of the pain. A team approach may include rheumatologists, surgeons, and therapists. Treatment is largely a matter of pain management.

For less severe cases, treatment may include acetaminophen for those with osteoarthritis and anti-inflammatory drugs for those with rheumatoid arthritis. Application of heat and cold, massage, and acupuncture are common.

Treating bursitis begins with avoiding the activity that causes the pain and allowing the joint to rest. Icing the afflicted area and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines may provide relief. In severe cases, steroids are prescribed. Physical therapy can help improve movement.


A number of approaches may help prevent the disability brought on by arthritis or at least lessen the severity. These approaches seem to evolve as more research is done; however, common suggestions from WebMD include the following:

  • Vitamin D may help protect against rheumatoid arthritis. Early treatment may slow the progression of the disease.
  • Exercise may help prevent disability and improve joint function.

Anyone who has experienced the pain of bursitis knows it can cause real discomfort and may restrict activity for a while. But the pain of arthritis can be truly crippling and debilitating. Any pain that is severe, comes on suddenly, or does not go away in a few days can be serious. If you have this type of pain, seek the advice of a medical professional. Early diagnosis and treatment can lessen the effects.

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