A bursa is a fluid-filled, saclike structure that provides cushioning between bones, tendons, and muscles around joints in the body. Lined by synovial membrane and containing an inner capillary layer of viscous fluid, bursae help reduce friction and allow free movement of the body.
When bursae become inflamed, a condition called bursitis arises. Joints may feel achy or stiff, look swollen and red, and there may be pain when one moves or presses on these areas. Bursitis may involve disabling joint pain, pain that lasts for more than 1-2 weeks, excessive swelling, redness, bruising, a rash in the affected area, sharp or shooting pain, or a fever. 1
Symptoms of bursitis may be caused by direct injury to a part of the body, prolonged pressure (such as when one prolongs kneeling or leaning on an elbow), overuse or strenuous activity, inflammatory arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis or spondyloarthritis, infection (septic bursitis), or crystal-induced arthropathy (such as in cases of longstanding or tophaceous gout). Common areas for bursitis are the shoulder, elbow, buttocks, hip, knee, and ankle. 2
In most cases, isolated bursitis is a self-limited condition that is reversible. Unlike cartilage, bursa has the ability to heal, which makes typical treatments for bursitis focus on relieving immediate symptoms to avoid secondary complications related to immobilization such as muscle atrophy or joint contracture,and to maintain range of motion. 3
While conventional treatments of bursitis involve icing affected areas and analgesia in the form of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen, acupuncture can also be used as a natural therapy. 4
A part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture supports the idea that our bodies, out of balance due to years of stress and unhealthy lifestyle choices, can be brought back to equilibrium through the practice of needling points on energy channels (located throughout the body) called meridians. When certain points on these meridians are stimulated, several things happen: acupuncture activates anti-inflammatory chemicals, releases particular hormones, and inhibits cell receptors – some of which may control the pain experience.
In addition, early researchers believed that the benefits of acupuncture resulted from the release of endorphins that caused the “feel good” sensation. However, recent research is demonstrating that there are possibly several mechanisms of action that occur with acupuncture that include an enhancement of blood flow, stretching of connective tissue, and nerve signals that reboot the autonomic nervous system. Some theories about how acupuncture works include the release of neurotransmitters, effects on the stress response system (or the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis), and gate control theory in which stimulation of certain pain nerves creates a competing pain sensation in the body which results in a decrease of pain. 5
Like any medical treatment, acupuncture needs to be administered by a highly and properly trained acupuncturist. Most states require acupuncturists to be licensed and the FDA requires all needles to be new and sterile. 6
That being said, the acupuncture treatment one receives depends on the locality of bursitis in the body. Acupuncture is not a treatment that can be performed at home or on oneself, so one must first consult with their physician to see if acupuncture is safe for them. If so, one can then contact a licensed acupuncturist and commence treatment.
Written by Nicole Kagan