Florida Pain Medicine is a rotation site and teaching facility for USF Health ACGME Pain Medicine Fellowship and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Residency.
Skip to main content

The Difference Between Arthritis and Bursitis

The Difference Between Arthritis and Bursitis

At first glance, arthritis and bursitis seem similar. They’re two of the most common joint problems. They both involve inflammation, cause joint pain, and affect your ability to use the joint.

Despite these similarities, arthritis and bursitis are more different than alike. They each have a distinct cause. Additionally, the nature of your pain and the impact on your long-term health differ.

Whether you have arthritis or bursitis, the team at Florida Pain Medicine offer advanced interventional treatments customized to ease your pain and support your optimal health. Here’s a rundown on the differences between arthritis and bursitis.

Body structures affected

Two of the biggest differences are found in how the diseases develop and the body structures affected by each condition:

Arthritis

The two major types of arthritis, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, damage cartilage, bones, and other structures inside the joints.

Osteoarthritis begins when cartilage breaks down. Cartilage normally protects the bones, allowing them to glide past one another as you use the joint. However, cartilage gradually wears away because of daily stress and movement.  

Over the years, more cartilage slowly wears away, inflammation develops, and the inflammation erodes the bone under the cartilage.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis starts when your immune system attacks the synovial tissues lining the joint. As a result, the tissues become inflamed. The inflammation gradually erodes the bones and causes joint deformities.

Bursitis

Bursitis affects tiny, fluid-filled sacs (bursa) located around the joint. Bursa are wedged between bones and soft tissues. The little sacs reduce friction between bones as they move and rub against your skin, ligaments, and tendons. When the bursa becomes inflamed, you have bursitis.

Inflammation develops because of:

More than 150 bursae are in your body. Any of them can develop bursitis, but the problem most often affects your knees, shoulders, elbows, and hips.

Symptom differences

Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis gradually damage the joint. As a result, you experience a slow but steady increase in pain and joint stiffness over the years. What begins as a slight twinge of discomfort turns into unbearable pain that stops you from using the joint.

Osteoarthritis doesn’t cause visible swelling. By comparison, rheumatoid arthritis often leads to noticeable redness and swelling around the joint.

Bursitis may develop slowly or flare up quickly. Once inflammation takes over the bursa, the condition immediately causes severe pain and limited joint movement. You may also have a noticeable swollen bump, depending on how close the bursa is to the surface.

Sometimes bursitis becomes infected. If that happens, the skin above the bursa looks red and feels warm, and you will probably have a fever.

Osteoarthritis always stays within the joint. Bursitis is always limited to the bursa. Rheumatoid arthritis is different because the inflammation can spread. As a result, you can develop inflammation and symptoms in your skin, eyes, blood vessels, lungs, and throughout their body.

Disease duration

Arthritis is a progressive disease that causes permanent joint damage. Though each person’s osteoarthritis progresses at a different pace, the degeneration can ultimately cause such extensive joint damage that your only treatment option is a joint replacement.

Though rheumatoid arthritis also progresses and causes irreversible damage, we have medications that can keep it in remission. With early treatment, medications can slow down or prevent bone erosion caused by rheumatoid arthritis.

Bursitis is a short-term condition. It doesn’t get progressively worse or last until you need a joint replacement. Instead, bursitis responds well to rest and steroid injections that reduce the inflammation.

In most cases, your bursitis improves in a few days or weeks. However, it can recur if you keep stressing the joint with the same activities.

When you need relief from joint pain and supportive care that restores joint mobility, call Florida Pain Medicine, or book an appointment online today.

You Might Also Enjoy...

 5 Invaluable Benefits of Medication Management

5 Invaluable Benefits of Medication Management

If you live with pain, you know firsthand the challenge of finding effective relief. Medication management helps you overcome pain by finding the best medication and making timely treatment adjustments to prevent pain from returning.
Bothered By Chronic Wrist Pain? Our Team Can Help

Bothered By Chronic Wrist Pain? Our Team Can Help

You may be tempted to ignore occasional nagging wrist pain, but without treatment, one day you’ll realize you’re struggling with chronic pain that limits hand function. At any stage, advanced care helps you overcome chronic wrist pain.

How Does a Spinal Cord Stimulation Trial Work?

Spinal cord stimulation has the potential to improve your life by easing chronic pain that doesn’t respond to other treatments. The question is whether it will work for you. To find out, you give it a test run with a spinal cord stimulation trial.
I Have Numbness and Tingling in My Feet: Why?

I Have Numbness and Tingling in My Feet: Why?

Numbness and tingling in your feet nearly always mean one thing: You have nerve damage. And if you have nerve damage, it’s crucial to seek treatment that stops the problem from progressing to cause serious complications.
Can High Blood Pressure Cause Headaches?

Can High Blood Pressure Cause Headaches?

Though high blood pressure doesn’t typically cause symptoms, it shares a relationship with headaches. If you have hypertension, your risk for severe headaches and migraines rises. And a headache is the first sign of dangerously high blood pressure.