Which findings are characteristic of bursitis?

Updated: Dec 11, 2020
  • Author: Kristine M Lohr, MD, MS; Chief Editor: Herbert S Diamond, MD  more...
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On physical examination, patients have tenderness at the site of the inflamed bursa. If the bursa is superficial, physical examination findings are significant for localized tenderness, warmth, edema, and erythema of the skin.

Reduced active range of motion with preserved passive range of motion is suggestive of bursitis, but the differential diagnosis includes tendinitis and muscle injury. A decrease in both active and passive range of motion is more suggestive of other musculoskeletal disorders. In patients with chronic bursitis, the affected limb may show disuse atrophy and weakness. Tendons may also be weakened and tender.

Although septic bursitis is not diagnosed solely on the basis of clinical signs, certain signs tend to favor the diagnosis of septic over sterile inflammatory bursitis. In particular, patients with septic bursitis may have fever, bursal warmth, tenderness that is more severe than in nonseptic bursitis, and associated peribursal cellulitis. Joint motion is typically preserved in septic bursitis, whereas other types of bursitis are associated with limited range of motion.

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