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You are here: Home > Pain & Injury Center > Wrist, Hand & Finger Injuries > Bursitis


Bursitis is the inflammation of a bursa, a thin, fluid-filled sac that lies between body tissues or structures to allow them to move against each other without friction. If the bursa is injured or inflamed it swells with excess fluid, reducing the space within which other tissues move and leading to friction, irritation, and pain.

The main bursae in the hand are the ulnar bursa and the radial bursa, which form protective sheaths around the tendons that run from the wrist into the hand.

The main cause of bursitis is repetitive movement. Other causes include prolonged or excessive pressure, injury, or conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Tenderness over the area of the bursa
  • Pain with movement, made worse with specific movement
  • Swelling or a small lump over the bursa
  • Open wounds around the area, redness and warmth of the skin, or fever, chills, or sweats could be symptoms of an infected bursa. Seek medical attention immediately for any such symptoms.

    Bursitis is mainly diagnosed through a medical history and a physical examination performed by your doctor. Blood tests, X-rays and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans normally are only taken if another condition suspected, such as a fracture, arthritis or calcium deposits.

    If an infected bursa is suspected, the doctor will remove some fluid from the bursa (through a simple procedure known as needle aspiration) and send it to the lab for analysis.

    Bursitis is usually treated with conservative (non-surgical) measures that you can administer yourself.

    Rest your hand: in particular, avoid any movement that makes the pain worse. You might want to immobilize the wrist temporarily by using a sling or padded splint.

    Crushed ice, in a bag wrapped in a towel, will help to reduce the inflammation and therefore the pain. Ice can be applied several times a day for as long as is comfortable. There are wraps containing gel packs available for purchase. The gel pack is cooled in the fridge and placed in the wrap, which is then applied to the wrist area.

    After a couple of days or cold therapy, the application of heat may help. Heat brings healing oxygen and nutrients to the injured area.

    Over-the-counter medication such as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as Advil, Motril, and Aleve will relieve inflammation and pain.

    If your symptoms continue, your doctor may inject cortisone directly into the bursa. This provides rapid relief, but can only be administered a few times a year to avoid damage to the tendons.

    Any infection would be treated with antibiotics and, if necessary, surgical drainage of the bursa.

    Chronic bursitis might require the surgical removal of the bursa, but normally bursitis subsides within a week or two of beginning treatment.


    Wrist Flexion:
    Hold a small weight (such as a can) in your injured hand, palm facing up. Bend your wrist slowly up and then down to the starting position. Repeat 10 times for 1 set. Do 3 sets. Gradually increase the weight.
    Wrist Extension:
    Hold a small weight (such as a can) in your injured hand, palm facing down. Bend your wrist slowly up and then down to the starting position. Repeat 10 times for 1 set. Do 3 sets. Gradually increase the weight.
    Strengthening Grip:
    Hold a rubber ball in your injured hand and squeeze it. Hold the squeeze for 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times for 1 set. Do 3 sets.

  • Avoid activities that cause flare ups
  • Strengthen surrounding muscles
  • Take breaks
  • Cushion joints
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