When to See a Doctor for Bursitis

When to See a Doctor for Bursitis

Bursitis is defined as the irritation or inflammation of a bursa (fluid-filled sacs attached to joints).

You can often effectively treat bursitis at home. However, in some cases, you may want or need to treat bursitis with some techniques not available at home and require a visit to a doctor.

If you have bursitis and you experience a warm swelling, a fever or become sick you may have septic bursitis and should seek medical attention. Septic bursitis needs antibiotic medication to treat it.

In the case of non-septic bursitis you should consider seeing a doctor:

  • If the pain becomes severe or is getting progressively worse
  • If your range of motion is being hampered and the swelling and stiffness is getting worse
  • If your strength is affected
  • If the injury is becoming chronic and never fully alleviates, or commonly reoccurs
  • If methods for preventing bursitis have not proven sufficient
  • If home treatments are not effective
  • If you can not change your habits or the repetitive stress causing your bursitis is unavoidable

What to Expect From Your Doctor

If you are seeking medical help for your bursitis then your general practitioner is probably your first stop. Your doctor will need a history of your condition including the symptoms and activities that trigger or worsen the symptoms. Additionally, you should provide your doctor with information about any treatments, over the counter medication or home remedies you have tried and how effective they have been.

Your doctor will perform a basic physical examination of the affected area to check for a swollen bursa. Diagnostic imagery is usually not required but is some difficult cases it may be requested. Imagery, such as an X-ray or MRI, can help fill out a comprehensive diagnosis. Once diagnosed your doctor may prescribe treatment or refer you to a specialist.

In some cases, your doctor may suggest draining the bursa to reduce the swelling. This can usually be done during the same visit. Your doctor will simply insert a syringe into the bursa and remove some of the fluid. This can provide immediate relief but does not treat the cause of bursitis.​

When referring you to a specialist your general practitioner will often suggest a physical therapist or occupational therapist. These therapists will develop a treatment regimen of exercise and/or behavioral therapy that should change or remove the repetitive stress that is causing bursitis as well as strengthening the area so it is more robust.

What to Bring to Your Doctor

Being prepared with a thorough history of your symptoms can help your doctor diagnose your bursitis. Organize your information to help your doctor get through all the pertinent parts in the time usually allotted for an appointment.

The information you should have on hand includes:

  • What your symptoms are
  • When your symptoms first presented or started
  • How severe your symptoms are
  • If your symptoms come and go or are persistent
  • What activities trigger or worsen your symptoms
  • What kind of repetitive stress concerning the area of your bursitis you regularly encounter
  • Any candidate causes of bursitis you have identified
  • Any injuries within the past 6 months to the area of your bursitis
  • Other medical conditions you currently suffer from or have had in the past, including surgeries

When gathering your information, it is beneficial to journal your symptoms. Write down all your symptoms with notes about duration and severity. Use a Visual Analog Pain Scale to track the pain. Make notes of the activities that may contribute to bursitis and what effect they seem to have. Furthermore, write down any treatments and if they have a positive or negative effect. Last, but not least, write down any questions you have for your doctor before your appointment.

Patients often get nervous or forget their questions when face to face with their doctor. Write down your questions and make sure you get satisfactory answers before you leave. Don't forget, your doctor is there to help you and you are paying them for that help, so make sure to get your money's worth.