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 fever1.
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 ankle2.
In most cases, isolated bursitis is a self-limited condition that is reversible. Unlike cartilage, bursa has the ability heal, which makes typical treatments of bursitis involve relieving immediate symptoms to avoid secondary complications related to immobilization—like muscle atrophy and joint contracture—and to maintain range of motion3.
When first affected by bursitis, patients are normally told to ice affected areas. Similarly, patients are taught principles of joint protection and are educated in the recognition of aggravating factors. Patients may also be given analgesia, to dull the pain, in the form of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like ibuprofen or naproxen. In cases of inflammation of the deeper bursae, an intralesional injection of a combination of local anesthetic and glucocorticoid is administered3, and other corticosteroids may be injected locally as well. An important element of treatment is rest, in order to prevent further irritation and allow healing to begin2.
In addition to these conventional treatments for bursitis, a more natural approach that is currently growing in popularity uses dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), a chemical made from wood pulp that enters the skin and promotes the healing of areas affected by inflammation2. DMSO, while sold as both a liquid and a solid is most often recommended in a 99.9 percent liquid form4. Creams and gels are also available, but may cause side effects that include prolonged itching and irritation. On occasion, mild reactions to the liquid, such as a warmth or slight itching at the area of application, may still occur.
According to Dr. Weil, American medical doctor and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, one should use a 70 percent solution of DMSO. Apply the solution to the affected area with absorbent cotton and let it dry. This should be done three times a day for three days. Then, if there is improvement of symptoms, reduce the frequency of treatment to twice a day for three more days, and then once a day for a final three days. After treatment, one’s body can continue to heal on it’s own2. It is also recommended that if there is no improvement after the first three days of treatment, use of the solution should be stopped2.
For suffers of persistent bursitis that does not respond to conventional therapies, DMSO is a potential natural treatment to try. Continuos application of topical DMSO in combination with rest and proper joint care may significantly help alleviate uncomfortable symptoms associated with inflammation of the bursae.
Written by Nicole Kagan