Shoulder or Elbow Pain: Is it Tendinitis or Bursitis?

Shoulder or elbow pain can occur for several reasons. When it does, it is important to quickly respond with rest and conservative therapies that will promote rapid healing. To know what to do about these kinds of pain, it helps to consult with an orthopedic doctor. This specialist conducts a specific evaluation to confirm the source of pain. Two common causes of shoulder and elbow pain are tendinitis and bursitis. We’ll look at each here.

Comparing Tendinitis and Bursitis

We can quickly differentiate bursitis from tendinitis by the type of tissue each affects:

  • Bursitis occurs in the bursa, a fluid-filled sac that provides cushioning between muscles, tendons, and bones in joints. Bursitis is the condition in which this sac has become inflamed.
  • Tendinitis occurs in one or more tendons. A tendon is a fibrous segment of tissue that connects muscle to bone. Some tendons are small and some are quite large.

Due to the roles they fulfill, tendons and bursa are often situated in the same areas of the body. Their close proximity creates the potential for inflammation in one structure to affect the other. This is why the two terms can be confused even though their affected structures are independent.

The Differences Between Bursitis and Tendinitis

There are several similarities between bursitis and tendinitis, including potential causes. Both the bursa and tendons can be injured by repetitive motions. For example, a person who plays tennis may develop either condition as a result of the same motions used to hit the ball. In addition to occurring as a result of an injury, bursitis may also develop as a secondary condition to another medical problem such as rheumatoid arthritis or infection.

Treating Tendinitis or Bursitis

Joint conditions such as bursitis and tendinitis are typically first treated with conservative modalities. Initially, rest may be recommended. If it is the shoulder that is affected, rest may include splinting the arm to reduce shoulder movement for a period of a few days or a few weeks. Ice may also be applied as needed to soothe discomfort and decrease swelling and inflammation. Medication such as anti-inflammatory drugs or cortisone injections may be needed to address more significant inflammation and pain. Doctors also often prescribe physical therapy as a modality for restoring strength and flexibility to the affected joint. Surgery is typically only indicated for severe injury to the tendon or for pain that does not resolve with other methods.

If you are in the Wayne, Parsippany, or Clifton area, call (973) 942-1315 to schedule a visit to an office near you. Together, we can find the source of shoulder or elbow pain.

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