Healthy Living

What Is Infectious Bursitis?

What Is Infectious Bursitis?

Human beings have approximately 150 bursae in their bodies. These are sac-like fluid filled organs that are located between the joints in muscles, bones, and tendons. Bursae are mostly found in the knee, buttocks, ankle, shoulder, or hip. They are also the most commonly affected areas. Bursitis is a condition that causes inflammation of the bursa. The bursa becomes swollen and causes pain in the affected area. There are various causes of bursitis such as traumas, overuse of the joints, or awkward posture.

However, in cases where the cause of bursitis is an infection it is referred to as infectious or septic bursitis. The bursa is infected when an infectious microorganism or bacteria gets into the bursa through a skin puncture, insect bite, cut, or scrape. Septic bursitis is considered to be a more dangerous condition then other aseptic cases. Those suffering from infectious bursitis require immediate medical attention. Cases of this condition are estimated at 20%.

What Are the Symptoms for Septic Bursitis?

  • Pain. A patient will feel pain around the affected area.
  • Swelling at the joints in the affected area.
  • Acute tenderness.
  • Extreme fever.
  • Body temperatures will rise up to 38C or above.
  • A patient will feel shivery.
  • You will also have broken skin around the affected areas.
  • When the area is touched it feels warm.
  • The affected area turns red in color.
  • You start experiencing pain at the joints.
  • A patient will suffer from a deeper layers of the skin infection (cellulitis).
  • General feeling of sickness all over the body.

Causes of Septic Bursitis

The following are the most common causes of septic bursitis.

Infection into the bursa is caused by microorganisms. These microorganisms find their way into the bursa when there is an opening on the skin. Such an opening may be as a result of a cut, insect bite, or a puncture. There are many insects that carry harmful chemicals that can cause irritation of the bursa. Sometimes, a person can experience a tear of the skin due to repetitive movements around the joints. This may be the knee, shoulder, or ankle. Once there is a tear, the microorganisms find a way into the bursa hence causing inflammation and swelling.

The condition of your body can also increase the chances of you suffering from septic bursitis. A person with a very weak immune system is more likely to suffer the condition. This is because the body is unable to fight opportunistic infections caused by bacteria. Behaviors such as alcoholism can also put a person at higher risk of being affected. People with health conditions such as HIV/AIDS are also at a high risk.

Other health conditions include:

  • Scleroderma - It brings about hardening of your skin.
  • Systemic lupus Erythematosus - Is a condition that affects body tissues thus making them weak and vulnerable.
  • Pseudogout and gout - They lead to accumulation of uric acid in a patient’s blood.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis - Causes attack of joints’ linings by the immune system.

Testing for Infectious Bursitis

The doctor will take a sample of your fluid from the bursa to test for infection. Blood tests may also be done in other cases.
Further testing may be done through imaging of the affected area through (MRI) or X-ray to rule out the possibility of other causes such as tissue damage.


The most immediate and noticeable effect of bursitis is pain, a patient can relieve the pain by resting the area from excess movement and pressure. Below is a list of some of the ways in which bursitis can be treated.

  • Avoid standing for extended periods.
  • Use a pillow when placing your knees over each other.
  • Use of ice packs is advisable to reduce swelling and relieve pain as well.
  • Proper treatment of any injuries.
  • Taking antibiotics.
  • You can undergo surgery if the infection persists.

Nonsurgical Treatment

If the doctor feels that infection is the cause of bursitis, she or he will want to drain the fluid from the bursa with a needle. This is a very common procedure and removing the fluid will give the patient relief from the symptoms. This aspiration of the fluid also gives a sample to the doctor that can be tested for bacteria in a laboratory. The doctor will then be able to prescribe the correct antibiotic to stop the infection.

Even before the exact kind of infection is found, the doctor will probably administer antibiotics so that the infection is stopped in its tracks. The antibiotic might also treat other infections in the body concurrently. If these steps don’t control the pain and swelling within 3 to 4 weeks, the doctor might want to aspirate the bursa and administer a corticosteroid drug into it. The injected anti-inflammatory steroid medication is more effective than if taken orally. These corticosteroids are quite effective in giving pain relief and reducing swelling.

Surgical Treatment

If there is infection in the bursa and the antibiotics prove to be ineffective, you might need surgery to cut out the complete bursa. This operation could be done in combination with oral or intravenous antibiotic medicines.

If infection is not the cause for bursitis, the patient may still need surgery if medicines do not work. In such a situation, this outpatient surgery is done without disturbing joints, ligaments, or muscles.

Even though physical therapy is not required, you might be recommended certain exercises to help your motion range. These are done a few days after surgery. Two weeks after the surgery the skin should be healed and 4 weeks after that the doctor will probably allow you to use your elbow. But the elbow might have to be padded for protection for a few months more.

The Bottom Line

Septic bursitis is a more rather dangerous condition compared to other aseptic conditions but can be treated and prevented if care is taken. Aspiration can also be used to treat the infection. This is removal of the fluid from the bursa by use of a needle and a syringe. Although it is painful. Hence, timely professional advice is of the utmost importance, make sure you see a doctor.