The bursa might be looked upon as pillows or cushions meant to protect the joints from friction between them and other body parts like tendons or bones. Bursas (also called bursae) are plump sacs filled with a fluid to provide cushioning and prevent irritation and pain. As you move your arms or legs, your bursa pads allow for smooth, painless action. However, it is possible for bursas to become damaged and inflamed, and this is most often caused by:

  • Frequent, repetitive movements.
  • Trauma to joints.
  • Infection.
  • Auto-immune factors.


Every joint in the body, including those in the fingers and toes have bursa to protect them – there are about 150 bursas scatter throughout the system. Although bursitis is theoretically possible in most of these places, it most frequently occurs in the shoulders, elbows, hips, or knees.

Bursitis makes it painful and difficult to perform ordinary tasks such as reaching for things or kneeling. Those with bursitis in the shoulder will find it almost impossible to reach above their heads or out to their sides. In extreme cases, the affected joint will freeze up, resulting in an almost total loss of movement for the shoulder, knee, etc. The joint with bursitis will often be painful to the touch and swollen.

Conventional Bursitis Treatments

Most people with bursitis will simply take over-the-counter pain medications to control discomfort. In addition to pain relievers, resting the joint completely will often allow the bursa pad to heal up. Ideally, the joint will be kept fairly immobile for several weeks while healing takes place, with a gradual return to normal activity.

Application of hot or cold compresses can also lessen pain. Daily applications of an ice pack (for no more than 20 minutes at a time) followed by the use of a heating pad or hot compress can help in speeding the healing process.

In persistent cases, your physician may give you steroid shots in the bursa to reduce inflammation. Not effective in all cases, complications of injections can include infection and the side effects related to corticosteroids. Extreme cases of bursitis may require surgery.

When the bursa has become infected, it is referred to as septic bursitis. This often begins as a scratch or cut to the skin above the bursa which allows bacteria to enter. A person with septic bursitis often has a fever and the area is swollen and feels hot when touched. Antibiotics will be required to stop the infection. Infection is one instance where massage therapy will not be called for as it can make the situation worse and cause the infection to spread.

Massage for Bursitis

During massage therapy, the bursa in question will not be directly massaged, but the masseur will instead apply the necessary technique to the muscles and tendons around the inflamed area to provide relief. Massage can help to relieve pain and speed recovery in several ways:

  • Massage warms the affected area up, helping muscles to relax and diminishing the chance of spasms. As the muscles relax, they ease pressure on the tendons, joint, and bursa pad.
  • Increased circulation will allow more of the body’s own immune system to access the problem area and speed healing.
  • Because massage generally causes a feeling of well-being and relaxation, it stimulates the release of endorphins which can help to reduce the level of bursitis pain.

Your massage therapist will begin your treatment with a light massage to aid loosening up the muscles. After this first step, the masseur will gradually work deeper and deeper into the muscles to provide the maximum amount of healing. The length of treatment necessary to help restore bursa to a normal condition will depend upon the severity of the pain and the length of time the problem has existed – those who have avoided treatment for a long period of time will necessarily require more help than patients who seek help quickly.