What Your Joint Pain Is Trying To Tell You

Whether it’s an achy elbow, a sore shoulder or a tender knee, joint pain is something we’ve all experienced. And because it’s such a common condition and can include any joint throughout the body, it’s often difficult to narrow down the cause.

One key distinction to note if you are experiencing joint pain is whether or not you are experiencing the pain in multiple joints or just one. Arthritis, for instance, is one of the most common causes of chronic joint pain throughout the body.

However, if you are experiencing joint pain in only one joint, it’s likely that you have bursitis or tendonitis. Both of these conditions, often caused by overuse, are telling your body to slow down and rest. So…you may be wondering what the difference is between bursitis and tendonitis?

Is bursitis busting up your joints?

Pity the poor bursa. We have about 150 of these simple, fluid-filled sacs throughout our bodies. Known all together as "bursae," they protect and lubricate joints, reducing rubbing as bones, tendons, muscles, and ligaments do their jobs. Bursae vary in size, but many (like those in the shoulder) are about the size of a silver dollar.

When bursae become swollen and painful, then it’s bursitis. This can make even simple movements of your shoulder, elbow, hip or knee feel like a huge effort. Overuse, wear and tear and trauma (direct impact) can all cause bursitis.

Keep in mind, though, that as you age, you can injure bursae more easily as the sacs become drier over the years.

Key symptoms of bursitis:

Pain that increases with movement and/or pressure

Constant tenderness that is felt without movement


Inability to fully move joint

Could it be tendonitis that’s tearing up your joints?

Tennis elbow, quarterback shoulder and jumper's knee are forms of tendonitis. Tendons are connective tissues that hold muscles to your bones. When muscles contract, tendons react, causing bones to move.

Too much stress on joints can tear and inflame tendons. Usually the tissue will repair itself quickly if the damage is slight or happens only occasionally. But the pain can become chronic if the damage happens often.

Key symptoms of tendonitis:

Dull but constant soreness that feels worse when you first start to move

A grating feeling when moving the joint

Pain and soreness that improves with movement as the muscles get warmer

Acute tendonitis may cause a sharper pain that may keep you from moving the joint completely

What’s the treatment for Bursitis & Tendonitis?

For both bursitis and tendonitis, inflammation from over-worked joints and straining are to blame. The best way to relieve pain for both conditions is to:
Avoid the activity that led to pain.

Use ice for the first 48 hours after an activity causes pain. Apply the ice wrapped in a towel, 15 to 20 minutes, 3 to 4 times daily. After a couple of days, use moist heat before physical activity and ice after activity if your healthcare provider agrees.

Elevate the injury (when it's possible and not painful) to reduce swelling.
Take over-the-counter, anti-inflammatory medicines, like ibuprofen, for pain and swelling. Ask your healthcare provider first.

Prevention is the best medication.

One of the best things you can do to help heal inflamed, sore joints and deter future joint discomfort is to focus on prevention.

Warm up thoroughly! Starting with stretching, gradually build the intensity level of your workout. Cool down after the session.

Train for a new activity before you start it. Give your body a chance to adapt to the new exercise by building strength and flexibility in those muscles.

Focus on form and ask for help from an expert. Make sure that you’re using the proper method and equipment for any exercise or activity.

Take breaks during exercise, especially if you are feeling tenderness or pain as these could be warning signs that your joints are feeling strained.

Work with a specialist to learn more joint conditions, prevention techniques and the latest treatment options. This is the best way to ensure lasting joint health.


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