Bursitis is inflammation of the bursae, fluid-filled sacs that cushion the joints. When the bursae are inflamed, irritation and pain develop in the affected joints and surrounding area. Most cases involve the elbow, knee, heel, or toe and may be acute or chronic. Various factors can cause bursitis, but repetitive movements and repeated pressure on a joint are the most common culprits. Home treatments can speed the healing process and prevent the condition from impacting one's quality of life too significantly.
For most cases of bursitis, a cold compress is the go-to fast and reliable treatment. A compress can ease inflammation and swelling and temporarily reduce the pain. Until the pain decreases, cold can also numb the area. A flexible freezer pack is a good option for this treatment, or an individual can place ice cubes in a bag, wrapped in a towel. Never apply ice directly to the skin, as it can cause frostbite.
Certain sleeping positions can cause or exacerbate bursitis. If a person sleeps in a way that pressure is placed on a joint for several hours at a time, this can lead to inflammation and pain. Elevating the feet can reduce swelling if the ankle joint is affected. Placing a pillow between the knees can help alleviate or even prevent pain in the knee joints.
Alternating warm compresses with cold can help alleviate swelling. Warm temperatures increase circulation and reduce joint stiffness while cold compresses decrease inflammation and pain. A washcloth soaked in water, a heating pad, a hot water bottle, and soaking in a warm bath can all confer benefits.
Padding the joints can help ease pain caused by bursitis. People who kneel a lot for their job, such as landscapers or contractors, can benefit significantly from wearing kneepads or using a pad like those provided to gardeners. A doctor can recommend the best type and placement of padding. Some people may also use a walking device such as a cane during painful flare-ups.
Some sources recommend massage for areas affected by bursitis, but massaging directly over an inflamed bursa can make the symptoms worse. To be safe, consult with a physician or physical therapist to see if massage is appropriate for your condition. It's best to let a professional massage therapist or physical therapy center perform the massage rather than attempting it at home.
The pain bursitis can cause might lead a person to keep their affected joint as immobile as possible, but some cases of bursitis can benefit from stretches. Though it is best to speak to a doctor or physical therapist about the right movements for each incident, research supports the benefit of stretching because it increases blood flow to the area, which can speed healing. For example, a person with hip bursitis may find relief from motions that gently stretch the injured hip and, once improved, exercises such as wall squats, which will strengthen the area and help prevent future injury.
Another home treatment for bursitis that can act quite quickly is castor oil. The oil contains anti-inflammatory agents, such as ricinoleic acid, which can relieve inflammation and discomfort while promoting good circulation and better mobility. Place a few tablespoons of the oil on a damp cloth. Place the cloth over the affected area and allow the oil to soak into the skin for about 15 minutes. This is a remedy that some naturopathic physicians recommend. Based on preliminary studies, it may be effective, but more research is needed.
When other treatments fail, or if they are not available, rest can be of benefit for ailments like bursitis. While keeping a joint completely immobile is not ideal, as this can result in stiffness and more pain, a few hours or a day of taking weight off a joint and keeping it elevated can make a positive difference. If total immobility is impossible, individuals with bursitis should strive to avoid any heavy impacts or lifting (depending on the location).
Many foods can help improve joint mobility and reduce inflammation. One of the most potent natural remedies is ginger, known for its pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger acts in the same way as other pain medications, though it may take effect more slowly. Prepare bags of ginger tea or sliced, fresh ginger in warm water and sip several times per day as a soothing beverage. Check with your doctor before consuming ginger, as it can interfere with blood-thinning medications and make them less effective.
Vitamin C may have a positive effect on bursitis, as it promotes connective tissue healing. Taking fish oil or flaxseed oil capsules may also improve the symptoms of bursitis by reducing inflammation, but note that omega-3s also increase the risk of bleeding in people who take blood thinners. Other natural options that could help and are easy to find include turmeric and white willow. Keep in mind that even natural alternatives can have adverse impacts when combined with certain drugs or other conditions — always speak to a doctor before taking new supplements.
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